CCSU Becomes A Microgrid With Fuel Cell Addition

By Kassondra Granata

CCSU is host to one of the largest projects in New England, separating it from the other CSU schools; a fuel cell energy center on campus.

Construction of the plant, located outside of East Hall, expected to be completed at the end of December and is running smoothly. The energy center is still awaiting the installation of a heat recovery steam generator, which will be used to take the waste heat and make steam for an alternative source.

“What this is going to do for us it is going to generate 1.4 megawatts of power,” said Rob Gagne, Plant Facilities Engineer, in December. “On a typical day, we’re using 4 megawatts, it is a considerable amount. Based on an annual basis, the waste heat and the water we are going to use, there are savings for the university.”

Because of this new addition, the university will now be saving $100,000 a year and anticipates purchasing 1400 kilowatts less from Connecticut Light and Power.

CCSU is now considered a “microgrid,” which means that the university is able to support the campus without using public utilities too much.

Gagne said that CCSU would be able to sustain itself when it comes to crisis situations.

“During the snow storm, we did not have this advantage just yet,” Gagne said. “Having the fuel cell module under our belt is going to help immensely.”

There are three portions in the fuel cell module: the mechanical balance, the electrical balance and the fuel cell module.

Preheated city water from East Hall goes through the mechanical balance and then mixes with natural gas. The desulfurization unit takes the sulfur out of the natural gas. The water needs to be in its purest form before going into the fuel cell module portion.

The natural gas is chemically combined inside and the waste heat from the fuel cell module creates steam that will humidify the natural gas, thus creating DC power before converting it to AC power.

According to Gagne, DC power, or direct current power, is like a huge battery. The DC power goes through a liquid cooler where it is converted into AC power, or alternating current power.

The AC power goes into a step up transformer that creates 480 volts and then transfers it into a switch gear that increases it to 4,160 volts.

“In order for us to operate on campus, we need alternating current power,” Gagne said. “We are taking a big battery, direct current power, and transferring it to alternating current power so we can bring 4,160 volts to the campus load.”

The last step before the project is completed is to install the heat recovery steam generator as well as build an ornamental fence around the plant. Once finished, CCSU will hold a ceremonial ribbon cutting to formally welcome the plant to the University.