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Going deep: Princeton lays the foundation for a ‘net-zero’ campus

By District Energy posted 11-10-2021 12:36


Princeton University


For Princeton University to meet its energy needs, along with its goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by its 300th anniversary in 2046, a complete rethinking is required on how energy is used and supplied in every lab, every office, every dorm room, in each parking lot and garage — even on pathways and playing fields.

The groundwork for this massive undertaking is being installed now as the University undergoes one of the most extensive building programs in its history over the next decade.

Like most institutions, Princeton historically has relied upon energy sources — primarily steam heat and electricity — that are powered by burning fossil fuels. Today, the University is moving toward a system that will employ a combination of combustion-free technologies to optimize and reduce overall energy usage and eliminate carbon emissions.

Princeton is phasing out steam generation for heating and instead implementing a new low-temperature heating water energy system driven by electric heat pumps, thermal storage and geo-exchange, which captures heat from inside campus buildings in the summer and stores that energy in the ground until it is needed again in the winter. The University is one of the first sites in the nation to combine these technologies at this scale.

The district energy system (as it is known in industry terms) simultaneously will provide for the University’s other major energy needs — heating water (for domestic hot water and heating spaces), chilled water (for cooling spaces and equipment such as lasers, electron microscopes, CT scanners and computer facilities), and delivering electricity via a microgrid. Ultimately, it will be powered almost entirely by electricity generated from renewable sources, including Princeton’s own supply of solar energy.

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