Higher ed can power peace of mind

After Hurricane Sandy, Adelphi University installed a cogeneration plant—and here’s why your campus might, too

New York is no stranger to the kind of damage that storms can do. In 2012, when Superstorm Sandy swept through, we knew we were fortunate that Adelphi University’s campus was without power for days and not weeks.

Still, after that experience, we knew we had a responsibility toward student safety and well being to do our part and to be prepared, should a storm like that happen again.

Storms like Sandy—and more recently Harvey, Irma and Maria—make us think about our responsibility as the people in charge of the facilities that so many live, work and learn in every day.

After Harvey, some universities welcomed dislocated students back to campus a little early. Campuses in Houston worked to provide needed services like day care and meals. And on campuses across the country, including at Adelphi, students rounded up clothing, school supplies and money to send to the areas devastated by the storms.

Natural disasters press us to think about our responsibility to the students, to their families, to our communities and to the planet.

Preparing for the worst

As the assistant vice president of Facilities Management at Adelphi, it’s my job to think about how we can best prepare the physical campus in light of that responsibility.

While we can’t prepare for all the damage done in the face of these storms, including the human need for counseling and comfort, we can at least make sure we do our best to lessen the effects of the weather on our campus, and vice versa.

It was that sense of responsibility that, after Sandy, that prompted us to replace our World War II-era boilers with a cogeneration (cogen) plant. The 1.99-megawatt combined heat and power (CHP) plant was completed in 2016.

Since then, it has made us a more financially, environmentally and socially responsible community. Financial responsibility is the first reason most campuses will consider switching to a cogen system, and it was certainly a factor for us.

Since we made the switch, we have reduced our annual energy bill by 40 percent, saving about $150,000 per month and at least $1.6 million annually. That money can go toward better buildings, new programs and so many other things that work toward our mission as institutions of higher education.

The big picture

But almost more important to our decision was the relief that cogen offers should another storm knock out power for days or even weeks. With the cogen, we can run the campus in emergency conditions, even if we don’t have incoming utility power.

Within four or six hours, we can restore power to critical buildings on campus—the dormitories, the cafeteria, the IT center and academic buildings—completely through the cogen plant. Students and faculty remain safe and dry, our IT operations can remain online and we won’t be left in the dark.

Finally, as storms like this seem to become more common, it’s impossible not to think of the impact we are having on the planet. Climate scientists connect climate change to the increasing severity and frequency of these storms.

As an institution, we have historically been environmentally focused, already using 100 percent green power and on-site solar PV generation. But since installing the cogen, our greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 4,645 metric tons per year. That’s equivalent to taking 981 cars off the road every year.

When we looked at the whole picture, at the costs and challenges associated with installing the cogen alongside the benefits and reassurances it would bring, we knew it was the right choice for our campus.

When other campuses are considering making the switch to a cogen plant, the peace of mind it can grant those of us responsible for facilities and buildings in the face of natural disasters is a factor that shouldn’t be discounted.  

Robert Shipley is assistant vice president of Facilities Management and campus sustainability coordinator at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.

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