In the loop: an all-around improvement

Portland State is in the middle of the transition to a more efficient and sustainable system of high-pressure steam and chilled water supported heating and cooling.

Portland State is in the middle of the transition to a more efficient and sustainable system of high-pressure steam and chilled water supported heating and cooling.

In collaboration with Fortis Construction, Portland State is using stimulus money it received last year to fund the project.

“This is a big undertaking,” said Marc Luce, refrigeration mechanic for Facilities and Planning.

Construction began nearly a year ago and is scheduled for completion in late August of 2010. The project includes an upgrade to high-pressure steam—from 15 pounds of pressure to 150—in addition to exchanging old pipes, most of which are over 20–30 years old.

All of the high-pressure steam and chilled-water lines are also being connected into a closed circuit, establishing the most efficient method of heating and cooling for Portland State yet.

“Right now our campus is so big, low-pressure steam—by the time you get to the end—just doesn’t have enough energy left,” Luce said.

The circuit will have three primary tunnels for the transportation of chilled water and high-pressure steam. These will not be open to the public and are solely for maintenance and the lines themselves.

The north tunnel runs between Cramer Hall and Science Buildings 1 and 2, the east tunnel runs from Millar Library to Shattuck Hall and the south tunnel between the West Heating Plant and the Peter W. Stott Center.

A total of seven boilers and over 10 chillers will continually reheat or cool steam and water, respectively, as they run along a loop of lines—three steam lines and two chilled-water lines—eliminating the need for the water to go all the way back to a primary heating and cooling location.

According to an article in Oregon’s Daily Journal of Commerce, Portland State received $29 million from the state’s stimulus package, nearly one-sixth of total state funds. Approximately $19 million of that sum went to the renovation of the heating and cooling system and the conversion to high-pressure steam.

Luce attested that the school always intended to pursue the project, but had to delay in the past for a lack of funding. Notified of the disbursement, Portland State had to move quickly in order to get the deal through contractors and create local jobs.

“They had to turn this over once they found out they’d get stimulus money, in a very short time,” Luce said, “within a month period, which is completely unheard of.”

Luce said that with the project came a vast number of job opportunities.

“You’ve got hundreds of trade workers, from welders, plumbers, fitters, that are employed,” Luce said.
Inefficiency and unnecessary complexity are two of the greater issues with Portland State’s old system of temperature maintenance and control. Since the foundation of the school, no measures had been taken to centralize or connect all the individual heating and cooling that resulted from picking up independently run buildings with their own boilers and air conditioning.

“As different buildings came up for sale the school picked them up,” Luce said.

With the new heating and cooling circuit, ultimately resembling a closed loop, Portland State cuts down on extraneous spending and reduces the waste of energy seen in previous years.

“Before, we didn’t have to run chilled water year round, but now, with more and more computer labs that need cooling, we’re running the chillers year round,” Luce said.

Nevertheless, Luce continued to explain that a single chiller could take care of the job, providing cool air along the entire line and cutting down on previous years’ usages of power by 70 percent.

“With high enough pressure, you only have the one plant that’ll take care of everything because it can go both ways on the loop, not just in a circle,” Luce said.

Temperature regulation through an automatic Direct Digital Control system also reduces difficulties and cost.
“Our computer has alarm set points. We find out there’s a [problem] before people even know they had [one], and we can correct the temperature,” Luce said.

Luce also predicts tremendous savings during seasonally uncharacteristic days. He said the system would accommodate for the unusual weather, cutting down on wasteful heat or air conditioning, and making conditions more comfortable and pleasant for students, staff and visitors on a regular basis.

The circuit’s scope should encompass about 40 Portland State buildings by construction’s completion, providing heating and cooling to the majority of the campus.

For some buildings this is the first time they will have one feature or the other. Shattuck Hall now has air conditioning for the first time, and so will the Stott Center when construction is finished. Residential buildings remain independent, but the new aquatic and recreation center is included.