On-site power benefits UCF by $2.5m a year

In the US, the University of Central Florida’s new $12m Mitsubishi combined heat and power co-generator is set to supply the university with one-third of its power and save over $2.5m a year.

Pumping out a whopping 5.5 MW of electricity, UCF's new co-generator hummed to life last month and began supplying the university one-third of its power.

The savings are the main reason why UCF decided to independently build and maintain the co-generator, which no other Florida university has done before, said David Norvell, director of sustainability and energy management.

In addition to generating 45 million kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to power 55000 light bulbs, the engine will create enough excess heat to power an absorption chiller, which will produce 1000 tons of chilled water for UCF's cooling system.

After crunching the numbers, many found it's easy to see the "reward" Norvell mentioned. Under Progress Energy, the school's main utility supplier, electricity prices for UCF amount to about $14m a year.

Within six years, the co-generator should supply enough electricity to pay back the $12m startup cost.

A 5,000-square-foot power plant on the corner of Gemini Boulevard and Libra Drive shelters the 30-foot-long, 10-foot-wide Mitsubishi engine.

The co-generator derives its power from burning natural gas, a cheap resource that is becoming more popular with energy companies around the world due to its low price.

The engine's placement on campus is vital to the initiative's efficiency. When energy from an off-site power source is transmitted across various distances, it diminishes the energy's power. Norvell said this is known as line loss, and it's another problem avoided by the co-generator's location.

"[The co-generator] works in this situation because it's right next to where you need it," said Barry Moline, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association. "When you take a power plant and use the exhaust right there next to the plant, the efficiency goes from about 50 or 60 per cent to 80 per cent."

The power plant is expected to run 24 hours a day throughout the year, with no interruptions except for scheduled maintenance.

The engine was designed and shipped to UCF by Mitsubishi Power Systems from of Yokohama, Japan.

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