Rendering of plans to upgrade Central Utility Plant at MIT

MIT ready to upgrade its central utilities plant

Aug. 16, 2017
The improvements will provide a more efficient, more flexible power system on the Cambridge, Mass., campus

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., is planning to break ground this month on a major upgrade of its Central Utilities Plant (CUP).

The university says in a news release that the CUP upgrade is essential to the Institute’s sustainability goals and will improve campus resiliency by creating an enhanced, more efficient, more flexible power system. 

The improvements will take pressure off the region’s utility grid — a system experiencing increasing demands and the growing frequency of severe weather.  MIT’s ability to operate on self-generated power in emergencies will help local utilities meet customer demand and provide more reliable services.

“Localized distributed energy resources are becoming more crucial to any forward-thinking energy strategy,” says Ken Packard, director of utilities at MIT. “When it’s upgraded, MIT’s smart microgrid will enable MIT to take most or all of our load off the regional grid when necessary. This reduces pressure on the region’s infrastructure and at the same time makes it possible for us to protect the campus from a superstorm or other power outage event. In addition, we are optimizing the plant to provide the cleanest possible energy, whether we are generating it on campus or receiving it from the grid, especially as the grid becomes less carbon intensive.”

The upgrade will replace an aging 22-megawatt gas turbine with a new one and install a second 22-megawatt gas turbine, each equipped with a heat recovery steam generator. The plant will switch to using natural gas for all normal operations, relegating fuel oil to backup emergency use only. Both new turbines are projected to be in service by 2020.

Starting in 2020, regulated pollutant emissions on the campus are expected to be more than 25 percent lower than 2014 emissions levels, and greenhouse gas emissions will be 10 percent lower than 2014 levels, offsetting a projected 10 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to energy demands created by new buildings and program growth.

Upgrade plans for the plant include building a new addition that will connect with the existing plant via two overhead bridges, one of which will contain a control room that enables operators to run both sections of the plant from a single location. A presentation space in the new addition will enhance the CUP team’s ability to engage with students and researchers on living lab activities and host learning opportunities for the broader community.

As part of the project, the streetscape along the perimeter of the plant will be improved with new lighting on public walkways as well as new public seating, bicycle racks, trees, and other plantings. The enhancements are designed to invite pedestrian traffic, creating a stronger connection between the main campus and the north campus.

The project also includes a rooftop system that will capture rainwater for use in the facility’s cooling towers, easing the burden on Cambridge’s storm water system. The perimeter site area will drain into rain gardens and through groundwater recharge.

The architect is Ellenzweig.

Video: Animated walkthrough of plans for the MIT Central Utilities Plant:

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