Campus News - December 3, 2001

Lobo Energy project moves UNM toward energy conservation

UNM is establishing a utility infrastructure improvement program that will ultimately result in more efficient energy production and significant energy savings associated with lighting, heating and cooling the campus.

“Net emissions of air pollutants to the global atmosphere from UNM operations will be reduced when the entire project is completed in 2004,” says Vern Hershberger, environmental health specialist, UNM Department of Safety, Health and Environmental Affairs.

UNM issued System Revenue Bonds in the amount of $52.7 million in April 2001 to fund renovation of the Ford Utilities Center, which is UNM’s central heating plant, to construct a new cooling plant, and fund other associated energy conservation projects.

The bonds will be repaid with energy savings resulting from greater equipment efficiency and lower consumption.

“The UNM Utilities system produces and provides heating, cooling, electricity, potable water and sewer services in volumes that rival many small towns,” says Jeff Easton, chief executive officer of Lobo Energy, Inc., a UNM subsidiary focusing on the University’s energy and conservation needs. The system serves a campus of 650 acres inhabited by 25,000 people working and learning in approximately six million square feet of building space, he said.

The Ford Utility Center’s existing natural gas-fired boilers were incrementally installed during the period from 1948 to 1975.

“Those aging boilers will be replaced with new boilers installed and operated to meet or be cleaner than air quality standards thus reducing the air emissions associated with the boiler equipment,” said Larry Schuster, utilities engineer, UNM Physical Plant. “The new boilers will be more efficient, meaning that less natural gas will be consumed to produce the same amount of steam for the campus. Since less natural gas is burned, operating costs and air emissions are lowered,” he says.

The Ford Utilities Center circulates steam and chilled water to campus buildings for heating and cooling building space and research activities. “The equipment is well past its normal service life resulting in high repair costs, frequent breakdowns, and high operating cost,” Schuster says.

New boilers and chillers will be constructed in an addition to the south side of the Ford Utilities Center building. When the new equipment is operational in 2004, the old equipment will be removed from Ford Utilities Center and it will be modernized for storage, shop floor space and training and meeting areas not currently available.

New cogeneration units will be installed in the old boiler space. “Cogeneration is the simultaneous production of two energy products—in this case, steam and electricity—from one fuel source, such as natural gas,” Schuster explains. “This process can reach nearly 80 percent efficiency as compared with only 40 percent efficiency if each product were produced separately.”

The renovation project will use newer gas turbine technology that is at least 35 percent more efficient in producing electricity than the 1989 equipment currently in use. Upon project completion, “cogeneration will produce approximately 65 percent of campus heating needs and 40 percent of campus electrical needs,” Schuster says.

One part of the overall effort currently underway is the replacement of piping that circulates chilled water throughout the campus by means of a six-mile closed-loop water system. Several cooling plants distributed throughout the campus chill the water.

One of the plants on UNM’s north campus, which is located at the entrance to the University Hospital and provides cooling primarily to the north campus, has become “a prime candidate for renewal and replacement” due to recurring problems associated with its age, Schuster says. That, and proposed expansion involving University Hospital and other Health Science Center facilities, will require the demolition of the existing plant and construction of a new one south of Lomas Blvd.

The new plant will be energy efficient and have sufficient capacity to adequately cool UNM’s main and north campuses, Easton says. To solve inadequate chilled water distribution capability on the main campus, a new pipeline consisting of two 24-inch diameter pipes is being constructed to connect the plant to several points on the existing chilled water loop.

A number of associated energy conservation projects include replacing inefficient lighting in most campus buildings, correcting inefficiencies in building chilled water piping and installing energy management controls in most buildings. “Installing new lamps and electronic ballasts in existing lighting fixtures will reduce lighting electricity use by at least 30 percent,” Schuster says.

“By correcting chilled water piping problems in buildings, the new chilled water equipment will be able to better serve the cooling needs of the buildings. Not only will these modifications improve cooling efficiency, they will reduce campus energy consumption,” he adds.

Easton says UNM has had an energy management system since the 1970s. “It is no longer operational because repair parts and technical support are no longer available to maintain it. Technology simply passed it by many years ago. A new energy management and control system will enable remote monitoring and control of building heating and cooling systems to ensure proper environments are maintained at the lowest use and cost available.”

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Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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