Energy Sovereignty Task Force – Opening Moves

Going forward, all news and information about the Penn State renewable energy conversion process – including the weekly Monday Morning Pipeline News – will be at a new website I set up today: Energy Sovereignty.

I appreciate the patience of my regular homesteading readers while I’ve been posting all sorts of gas pipeline news here these last few weeks. If you’re a homesteader who is also interested in the emerging community-led energy system planning process, please subscribe to Energy Sovereignty either by email or through the RSS button. The last pipeline post at Spring Creek Homesteading is below and is cross-posted at the new blog.

There is no official citizen energy task force yet, although the seeds have been planted and there is community discussion about it. To get the conversation started, Matt Dahlhausen has put together a very rough preliminary feasibility analysis. Matt is an MS candidate in the PSU Architectural Engineering program:

“I think climate change is an urgent problem, and came to my graduate program to do research on building retrofits to address it. I’ve engaged in political activism to encourage climate action, especially a carbon tax.

I think Penn State needs to set serious, long term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and that those targets should be set by ecological necessity, not economic ease, though I do realize the obvious cost-prohibitive nature of doing something like powering the campus entirely off of wind in the next 10 years.”


Submitted to Rob Cooper and Mike Prinkey at PSU-OPP via email – April 1, 2013


I’ve been working with Johan Zwart to think of alternatives to the gas expansion at West Campus Steam Plant.

Rob, I realize you are in a really tough position in having to make a decision about what to do – nothing is optimal. There are serious community rights / environmental concerns, the payback dictates from the top, and an uncooperative power utility that won’t let you expand cogen on the east side, all complicated by the Damoclean sword of the EPA regulations that limit how much time you have to do work.

It’s difficult to long-term strategic planning in such an environment.

It seems to me that the only reasonable long-term options for Penn State are a 2-pipe geothermal system with heat pumps at the building level, a 4-pipe geothermal system with centralized chiller heaters, or one of those options combined with a hybrid biomass cogen/trigen plant. I think it goes without saying that this is pursued with the understanding that any new buildings or renovations should be to ASHRAE 189 and/or PassivHaus equivalent, with all all-electric systems, some geothermal, and “renewable ready” potential. None of this steel-and-glass heat exchanger design that Penn State has recently become enamored with.

Here are the alternatives I could come up with for avoiding the current gas line installation needed for the retrofit at the West Campus Steam Plant. Each may add a piece of the 200,000 pounds per hour of steam generation you need to replace the coal peak load.

Study Methodology

Goal: Determine whether the West Campus Steam Plant retrofit can be avoided through a combination of heating load reduction and alternative capacity addition at a comparable cost.

Specific determinants:

  • Determine the peak load reduction needed
  • Determine the potential for demand side management in buildings
  • Determine the rough size of capacity addition needed to make up the difference
  • Determine the potential for a geothermal system for Penn State in the long term, with a phase 1 to be built in the next 3 years to make up the capacity addition needed
  • Long term capital comparison of a geothermal system versus purchased gas for different energy policy assumptions
  • Look into potential to use existing infrastructure (tie-in with chilled water loop, water-water heat pumps at the building level)
  • Cost and timeline feasibility for retrofit and geothermal measures



Obviously the best and only long term strategy. There isn’t enough time or money to do complete retrofits of every building on campus – that is a 40 year project. However, there may be some existing opportunities to expand load reduction programs before the 2016 deadline.

These were high-response (proxy for demand), high-load use buildings I identified from the Building Energy Report that could provide some marginal short-term reduction:

  • The “Bookstore Building”
  • Reber
  • Earth & Eng Sciences
  • Life Sciences (all fume hoods)
  • Bryce Jordan Center (load control on cold mornings)
  • Chemistry Building (all fume hoods)
  • Food Science (fume hoods)
  • Forest Resources (this shouldn’t be using this much…???)
  • Ag Science
  • Hamilton Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Atherton Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • McElwain Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Simmons Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Waring Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Redifer Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Warnock Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Findlay Hall (Residence hall – program to explain how steam system works)
  • Hammond (tear town…)
  • Steidle
  • Rec Hall (insulate roof… plus solar?)

Priority here should be given to occupant training programs in the resident halls and in the laboratories. If not already done, Eco Reps should have some training on how steam systems work and how to control room temperature. This should be part of residential education. Another key program would be to appoint an energy person in each lab that has a fume hood– submeter the fume hoods, and have the lab rep responsible for keeping fume hoods closed/off/reduced when not in use. Add a fee or set up a competition or something to have labs take energy use seriously.

I don’t know to what degree these things are already being done. My only reference is the engineering units, which I know are HUGE energy wasters… (central AC was on at 3am in the middle of January. Stairwell lights are way beyond lighting regs for safety, and really need a photosensor/occ sensor. I don’t have any way of turning these things off when no one is in the building!)

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the West Campus Steam Plant: 15-25%


Set up a steam DMR program in classroom, office and library buildings to cut down on steam draw during system peaks.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 0-10%


It may be possible to do 3-6 buildings retrofits before the 2016 deadline. The likely targets would be the residence halls, probably east halls. They pull a lot of steam. Parts of the reduction are mutually exclusive with #1. This dipping into other capital funding, and could mean significant savings on the WSCP install.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 5-10%


Convert part of the chilled water loop to a geothermal system with heat pumps at every building. I did a rudimentary analysis for 14 buildings from Old Main west. (see attached). I calculated the capacity for 14 buildings – they use~6-8% of the steam, and we can get a best-case 30,000pph peak reduction from them.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 5-15%


This would commit Penn State to using a long-term strategy of building load reduction, and heat pumps at the building level. Possibly a reasonable long-term strategy.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 40-70%


4-pipe geothermal system. $120 million rough cost. Really expensive, and would need to be combined with other peak load reduction options. 200,000 pounds per hour replaced entirely with wells is possible – the land area is there (see attached maps) – but it’s going to add 25 MW to the electric at Coefficient of Performance of 3 (not including pumping energy for the wells or the buildings)

This is probably a 10-15 year plan, with the eventual goal of having the load brought down enough to meet the geothermal capacity, plus whatever extra heat you have from the cogen system to power the chiller heaters.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: up to 100%


Add a condensing unit to the exhaust gases at the east campus and/or west campus plant, and dump that into the 2-pipe conversion loop in #4, #5 or #6. This saves part of the need for drilling wells, and significantly improves the efficiency of current gas use.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 5-15%


Another Heat Recovery Steam Generator. There is the issue with West Penn Power being uncooperative. Put it may come down to a simple calculation that it is safer/easier to run new electrical line from East Campus Steam Plant to campus, that to put in a pipeline.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: up to 100%


Link in with the existing 3” pipe where available, and use that to generate electric to power and dump waste heat into #4, #5 or #6. This could also be directly used to make localized steam for a large user. It could then be argued as an “essential service” for something like the life science or chemistry buildings to provide a redundancy when used with some of the load reduction strategies.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 10-20%


Store waste heat in a molten salt for the steam system. I don’t know to what extent this has been done before. It would add redundancy, and could be argued as an essential service.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 5-10%?


Add electric or Air Source Heat Pumps to key buildings to provide heating on peak days. Really a poor option, because this infrastructure is inefficient and should come out in the long term.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 5-10%

12) OIL PEAKER AT West Campus Steam Plant.

Not a great option; it is expensive infrastructure you don’t use much that costs a lot to run, and hopefully will be unnecessary within 10yrs because of other load reduction measures.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: 15-30%?


Very unlikely to happen. Probably not even worth investigating the potential.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: <5%


Have the community fund a district 2-pipe system, with wells on their property, and send excess capacity to Penn State. Again, highly unlikely. This is likely cost-effective, but requires incredible social and communication infrastructure (“soft” infrastructure) to pull it off.

Potential replacement of peak steam use, currently met by coal at the WCSP: <5%



Do some of the above, and reduce the gas pipeline through the borough both in size and pressure… say a 8″ 200 psi line. Still get a pipeline. A potential argument could be made that this is at least temporarily safer, because it replaces an older line. If Penn State can commit to a 30 year or 40 yearr plan to get off fossil fuels and then to dig up the pipeline, this may go over well with the community.

I don’t yet know how to combine these pieces to get our 200,00 pounds per hour. It needs more investigation, but it does look it is feasible in 3 years. The data I’ll need to investigate further is listed below.


It’s not possible for Penn State to convert to solar, wind and geothermal within the next 3 years. It is a 15 to 30 year goal at best, involving significant, rapid renovation of the building stock. Geothermal systems still use an incredible amount of electricity to run, likely causing an increase in CO2 and other criteria emissions in the short term, as much of that added electrical consumption would be purchased from the coal-based grid.

If the State College Community Bill of Rights is to be used to outright oppose any pipeline construction, regardless of route, it will be best leveraged to get Penn State to commit to transitioning off fossil fuels, mostly through load reduction (building energy efficiency), combined with a district ground-source heat pump system, with thermal storage, solar thermal integration, and/or biomass cogen/trigen.

That said, I’m surprised OPP hasn’t already made significant load reduction efforts, given the amount of energy waste and simultaneous heating/cooling present in their district system.

It is unlikely I will be able to get data from OPP to do further analysis, given the likelihood of litigation. OPP has not responded to my April 1 requests for data.

Data Needed to Continue Feasibility Analysis

  • For all campus buildings: Monthly utility for steam, chilled water, electric, service water. Hourly data would be nice for large/high use buildings on the district systems.
  • Both steam plants: hourly fuel consumption (gas, coal, diesel), steam output (pounds per hour), make-up water, condensate return, power production from cogen
  • Chilled water plants: hourly electric consumption, gpm, temp of supply, gpm, temp of return (or otherwise tons). If hourly data for the chilled water and steam plants is not available, daily data will suffice.
  •  Electric feed for campus: Megawatts of power – 15 minunte interval data (to get peak), and costing data for this ($/mwh, $/peak kw)
  • Any reports on the strategic utility plan, energy master plan or Greenhouse Gas reduction plan.
  • Any existing feasibility studies on renewable energy generation, especially geothermal
  • Any reports or initial disaggregation studies on campus buildings and retrofit plans underway
This entry was posted in Community Resilience-Building, PSU Renewables Conversion - Phase 1. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Energy Sovereignty Task Force – Opening Moves

  1. Cole Hons says:

    wow, kw. you seriously blow me away with all your efforts here. thanks for all the dedicated energy!

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