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Summer energy shortages possible

In anticipation of possible power shortages throughout New England this summer, the MIT community is urged to conserve electricity and cooling energy. Physical Plant staff are making plans to reduce controllable loads if necessary, and are designing enhancements to maximize the cogeneration turbine output during very hot days.

The New England Power Pool (NEPOOL) recently stated that power shortages in the 2,000-megawatt (MW) range could occur during hot weather. These shortages arise from the unavailability of four nuclear power plants, the 800-MW Maine Yankee plant and the three Millstone units in Connecticut, totaling 2,630 MW. An all-time record peak power demand of 21,400 MW is projected for New England this summer.

Utility- and non-utility-owned mothballed plants are being brought back into service and others are being modified to provide additional power.

At MIT's cogeneration power plant, preparations are underway to maximize the combustion turbine generator output by cooling the gas turbine inlet air. A gas turbine's output declines as inlet air temperature increases, so by cooling the air with chilled water during the hottest summer days, additional capacity can be delivered to campus, reducing MIT's draw from the regional power grid.

NEPOOL is also offering an incentive for major customers who can reduce load on command.

"Our reading of the fine print makes us doubtful that we would ever get any payoff," said Peter L. Cooper, Physical Plant's assistant director for utilities. "We believe that it's better to pursue behavior changes that will save energy all summer long, even if the call to reduce never comes. We can centrally control building temperatures, but the most effective load reduction is done by individual researchers, staff and students, who are in the best position to conserve without disrupting their work."

Mr. Cooper offered the following conservation tips:

  • Shut off unnecessary lighting.
  • Shut down computers and lab equipment when not in use.
  • Conserve cool air in work areas by lowering blinds and closing doors to non-air-conditioned spaces.
  • Close fume hood sashes when not in use to minimize the cool air that is drawn out of the room and wasted.

Significant energy is required to provide cooling to spaces and equipment. Shutting off electrical devices saves electricity and also saves the cost of removing the heat generated by the device. For every dollar saved in electricity by a computer being turned off, another 50 cents in chilled-water savings is achieved due to the reduced heat load.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 1997.

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