Celebrating 100 years of central utilities services at Yale

November 15, 2018

Yale’s Power Plants have been keeping the campus warm, cool and bright for 100 years!

Built in 1918, the Central Power Plant (CPP) provides steam heat and power to central campus buildings— from Science Hill to Old Campus and everywhere in between. Only a handful of locations on central campus are not on this system. Prior to 1918, there were several smaller heating and lighting plants in various buildings around campus serving multiple locations. But as the campus grew and expanded, the need for centralized heating and power systems increased.

The CPP building, and its related service tunnels, were constructed from funds given by Mrs. Stephen Harkness. Designed and constructed in the Neo-Gothic style, with its tower-like smokestacks, it was finished fifteen years before the Payne Whitney Gym—a near neighbor.

Sterling Power Plant (SPP) was built in 1923 and provides, steam, chilled water and power to the medical school campus, with steam and chilled water also supplied to Yale New Haven Hospital. The plant is named after John Sterling, Class of 1864, who bequeathed money to Yale for its construction.

Both plants were originally powered by coal, later converted to oil and natural gas, and are currently both duel-fuel plants using oil and gas.

Centralized services and a growing campus

The university invested in a central plant to provide centralized services (heating and power) to its buildings, with an eye toward a rapidly growing campus footprint. That expansion exploded between 1930 and 1940 as new colleges, libraries, and other buildings were constructed or acquired.  This included 10 of the colleges, the Hall of Graduate Studies, Sterling Memorial Library, Payne Whitney Gym, and Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall—to name just a few!

All of these new buildings needed heat and power, so during that same timeframe the CPP expanded its underground tunnel network to service them primarily with heat distribution.

Embracing new technologies

As the decades passed, both CPP and SPP continued to operate 24/7/365 pumping out heat and producing power with tweaks and upgrades to its systems. By the 1960s, there was a growing need to provide centralized cooling (air conditioning) to our buildings, and in 1969 a central cooling system was added to the CPP and SPP.  Water is chilled at the power plants and distributed to the campus buildings to cool them.

Another big conversion happened in the 1990s, when CPP became a co-generation plant.  SPP was converted to cogeneration in 2007. At both plants, power is generated by natural gas fired turbines while recovering waste heat with heat recovery steam boilers. The waste heat generated from these boilers is now utilized to make steam that is used for heating and driving equipment that produces chilled water. All this equals a greener, more efficient plant.

New technologies continue to drive changes and upgrades to both plants. In the late 2000s, the CPP expanded to include new high efficient low emissions boilers.  Then, in 2017, CPP replaced the aging natural gas fired turbines with new more efficient and reliable natural gas turbines along with a complete upgrade of the plant control system.

Looking ahead

The team of managers and licensed personnel that run the plant continue to embrace and adapt to technological advancements in systems and equipment. As systems are upgraded, investing in training staff who maintain and have deep knowledge of the equipment is extremely important.  “Not only does this make the plant more resilient and energy efficient, we need to be at optimal performance to meet the current and future needs of the university,” said Anthony Kosior, director of utilities and engineering.

Celebrating the Plant and its operators

While the plants have been chugging along for 100 years, dedicated staff have been there to keep them running. This includes operators, watch engineers, mechanics, electricians, management, and other support staff.  “We have staff that have been working at the plants for 30 years or more,” said Kosior.  “They have seen a lot of change within these brick walls. We rely on them and all support staff to maintain the plants and operate the equipment. The plants wouldn’t run without them.”  And because the staff is such an important part of providing utilities services to the university, they all got to celebrate this 100-year milestone together.

In August, Central Utilities celebrated by inviting its entire staff to an outdoor BBQ at both the Central and Sterling plants. For 100 years, the plants and their staff have efficiently and reliably provided centralized heating and power services—doing it safely and doing it in compliance with environmental standards.