Yale to replace turbines

Over the next two years, Yale will spend roughly $50 million to replace the gas turbines in the Yale Central Power Plant.

At the Yale Corporation’s annual meeting about the capital budget last weekend, members of Corporation approved funding to replace the three turbines at the Central Power Plant, which produces all heating, cooling and two-thirds of the electricity used by Yale’s central campus. The existing turbines are gradually becoming less efficient and have already been overhauled twice during their lifetimes, said Thomas Starr, manager of the Central Power Plant. By installing new, more high-tech turbines within the next few years, Yale will be able to save money over the long run and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, said Provost Benjamin Polak.

“The turbines are not at their expected life, but are beginning to fail a bit early,” Polak said. “They need replacing.”

Polak added that that Yale probably “didn’t buy the best model” when the turbines were installed in 1997.

University President Richard Levin said planning for the turbines’ replacement was “already in the works” before the power outage last week, which Polak said was completely unrelated to the turbines.

Much like cars, turbines become less efficient the more they are used, Starr said. Overhauling a turbine can restore most of its efficiency and extend its life by a few years, he added, but the operation costs $2.5 million per turbine and the existing turbines have already been overhauled twice.

Though the current turbines were manufactured in 1996, Starr estimated that their design dates back to the 1970s.

“While we’re plodding along with this vintage technology, not only is the efficiency of these machines dropping off, but the efficiency of the other competitor machines that are on the market that have new technology gets better and better,” he said.

Starr said staff were already talking about finding new turbines when he arrived at the Office of Facilities eight years ago, but the office decided to overhaul them two years ago before beginning the actual process of replacing them. He said it does not currently make sense “to pour more money into machines that are clearly legacy machines.”

The power plant is beginning to talk to potential contractors, Starr said. Though manufacturers will bid for Yale to use their turbines, he said, the University will only consider two turbine manufacturers in this size range: Siemens Energy and Solar Turbines.

“I’d like to buy the Ford Taurus of gas turbines — a real, proven, established product,” he said.

Starr said turbines use natural gas to generate electricity, and the waste heat from that process is then used to produce steam for heating and cooling the campus. The entire process, known as cogeneration, is more than twice as energy efficient as traditional methods.

Yale began using cogeneration in 1995.

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