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How Can We Incorporate Electrification in Central Plant Design?

Building electrification is a pathway for reducing our carbon footprint. Also known as “building decarbonization,” building electrification is the shift from using fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, to electricity, for heating and cooking. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, a majority of residential and commercial buildings use fossil fuels, contributing around 13% of all US greenhouse gas emissions.

Renewable energy, or energy from naturally replenishable sources (e.g., wind, geothermal, solar, etc.), is perhaps more widely known as an option for decarbonization goals. Renewable resources became the second-most prevalent U.S. electricity source in 2020, generating approximately 21% of the country’s electricity, as per the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Among the benefits of building electrification are, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mitigating impacts of climate change, improving air quality, and cost savings.

Decarbonization Opportunities in Modular Central Plant Design

There are opportunities to decarbonize and incorporate electrification in modular central plant design. Electricity sourced by renewable power production to reduce or eliminate the carbon footprint of a central plant is an example.

Systecon is seeing an increase in applications for electrification with simultaneous heating and cooling demands that can be met with a mix of technologies, including ground source geothermal and air source adiabatic coolers. In addition to designing and building these modular utility solutions, Systecon’s in-factory performance testing can help define the plant’s baseline performance.

One consumer goods manufacturer sought to shift to geothermal energy to condition the campus of its corporate headquarters and significantly reduce its energy use.

Considered a renewable energy source, geothermal energy is heat continuously produced within the earth. It can be used for heating and cooling purposes.

workers working on a geothermal conditioning system

Repurposing Existing Space for New Plant

The client’s use of a geothermal conditioning system is to provide heating and cooling for its campus’ buildings.

The primary challenge to consider was the constraints of the existing space. The current building structure housed a steam boiler plant that would be repurposed for the customer’s new modular central geothermal plant. Taking its existing boiler plant and converting it from steam to hot water, the customer shifts from carbon base natural gas boilers to electric heat recovery chillers.

By shifting to a geothermal plant, the customer estimates a 40% reduction in energy consumption compared to the system it is replacing. 

Geothermal, closed-loop wells were installed in available space and covered with a new parking lot. These wells provide a consistent temperature glycol for use on the evaporator and condenser of the heat recovery chillers.

A Two-Story Modular Geothermal Plant

A Two-Story Modular Geothermal Plant

Through the design-bid-build process, Systecon provided the customer with a modular geothermal solution.

Supporting the project engineer very early in the process, Systecon became the Basis of Design and coordinated the 3D design to facilitate reuse of the existing building structure and integrated factory PLC controls with BACnet interface to the campus Building Management System.

Incorporating structural steel, heat recovery, modular chillers, boilers, heat exchangers, pumps, controls, and electrical distribution, Systecon designed, manufactured, and streamlined delivery of a two-level modular central geothermal plant. This two-story plant fit into the existing building structure and uses high-efficient modular chillers/heaters for simultaneous cooling and heating.

This project is an example of incorporating electrification into a central plant design and meeting the customer’s challenge of space constraints.

Project and vendor partners include: Windy City Representatives, Affiliated EngineersAhernMultistack (chiller), Cleaver-Brooks (supplemental boilers), Bell & Gossett (pumps), Danfoss SONDEX (heat exchangers).

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