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NYU could save $8 million per year with cogeneration upgrade

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By switching from oil to natural gas through a $125 million upgrade, the university significantly improved the energy efficiency of its operations.

New York University believes it will slash another 23 percent off the greenhouse gas emissions created by its co-generation (CoGen) plant by switching its technology from oil over to natural gas. The university has already cut its emissions by 20 percent to 25 percent over the past four years to 125,000 metric tons carbon equivalent (MTCE) in 2010. That compares with a peak of 179,000 MTCE in 2006.

An architectural rendering of the re-landscaped Mercer Street Plaza

The facility, located on Mercer Street, can produce 13.4-megawatts per hour of electricity, which is twice the capacity of the previous system. For perspective, the plant will provide electricity to 22 NYU buildings, which is seven more than the previous technology. It will also be responsible for producing heat and hot water for 37 buildings on the Washington Square Campus in the heart of New York's Greenwich Village. The upgrade cost roughly $125 million, and took slightly more than two years to construct. At the heart of the system are two 5.5-megawatt gas turbines and a 2.4-megawatt steam turbine. Those technologies will help the university avoid using up to 500,000 gallons of oil per year. The new fuel source is compressed natural gas, along with the hot waste exhaust, which is used in heat recovery generators to produce steam.

The project was part of NYU's 2010 Climate Action Plan, which calls for all city colleges and universities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions voluntarily by 30 percent by 2017.

Says John Bradley, the university's assistant vice president for sustainability, energy and technical services: "This CoGen plant is unique in New York and certainly around the country because of its efficiency. NYU's CoGen will be well into the 90 percent range of efficiency, where a typical boiler is 50-60 percent efficient."

A side benefit, certainly, is that NYU will be less of a drain on the New York grid because of this project. When spring comes the CoGen plant will be underneath a green urban plaza like the one pictured above. That design was constructed in cooperation with a community advisory community that was tapped to assist with the planning, which was not without its controversy.

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Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure