Princeton’s co-gen plant marks 25 powerful years of operation, points to clean-energy future

Oct. 27, 2021

Princeton’s co-generation energy plant began supplying power, heating and cooling to campus 25 years ago this month, and it will continue to play a significant role as the University drives toward its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2046.

Besides producing electricity, steam and chilled water to support the operation of most buildings on campus, the co-gen plant near the south gate on Elm Drive serves as a laboratory for learning about energy efficiency and water conservation.

Princeton’s cogeneration plant was the first in New Jersey to demonstrate the use of biodiesel in its stationary boilers, and the first in the world to demonstrate the use of biodiesel in the LM-1600 gas turbine at the plant. Even though the plant doesn’t use biodiesel today, it remains an option for the future.

The co-gen plant is also a tremendous asset for generating heat and power whenever storms or other problems disrupt the northeast regional power grid, as happened in 2012 with Superstorm Sandy. While surrounding areas of New Jersey were without electricity for days, the co-gen plant literally kept the lights on for campus.

Since Sandy, energy plant Director Ted Borer has led tours for hundreds of representatives from other universities and institutions wanting to learn about the plant and its many benefits.

The plant is an integral part of achieving the clean energy goals of the University’s Sustainability Action Plan. Among many other initiatives, the plan will expand solar power generation on campus and create an extensive geo-exchange heating and cooling network anchored in a plant called TIGER (Thermally Integrated Geo-Exchange Resource) to be built east of Jadwin Gym and Denunzio Pool. The work will involve extensive building energy retrofits and installation of more than 13 miles of district hot water piping.

A smaller, similar structure called TIGER-CUB (Central Utility Building) will be built across Lake Carnegie as the campus expands there.

“We will teach them to dance together,” Borer said, referring to production from the solar, TIGER, geoexchange, and co-gen facilities. “The ballet that we’re going to need to conduct will be very complex.”

As the University relies more on solar and geo-exchange output, the co-gen plant will operate less frequently. “But the hours we operate will be extremely valuable,” he said. For example, the plant will run on high-demand days of extreme heat or cold, saving the University the peak prices of energy purchased off the regional power grid.

And in a crisis that takes down the feeds of PSE&G electricity to campus, the co-gen plant can spring to life and power most of campus just as it did during Superstorm Sandy.

cogeneration plant crew 2021

“Even as we build the TIGER and CUB, all of us who work in the cogeneration plant are proud of its success,” Borer said. “We are looking forward to its role supporting Princeton’s new campus energy systems.”

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