Harry Shapiro was six when he first toured the plastics factory his father managed near their home in Chicago. He walked out with a spark of attraction for industrial plants that he carried with him to Princeton University.
In his first semester on campus in 2018, Shapiro toured the University’s energy plant, where he marveled at the “genius and brilliance” of how the plant’s different components fit together to supply much of the campus’s heating, cooling and electricity.
Now, for his senior thesis project, Shapiro has synthesized more than two million data points on campus energy use, developing a mathematical model to help reduce costs and carbon emissions. The model aims to optimize the University’s hour-by-hour dispatch of its various energy sources — an increasingly complex challenge as Princeton moves toward its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2046.
The University uses its own gas turbine-powered cogeneration plant and solar collector field, along with external grid energy, for electricity, heating and cooling. To increase the campus’s energy efficiency and sustainability, workers have been drilling hundreds of bores up to 850 feet deep to serve as geo-exchange wells.
The wells store heat created by cooling campus buildings during the warmer months, which can be used for heating during colder weather. Geo-exchange heat pumps and controls, and tanks to store water for heating and cooling campus, will be housed in the TIGER and TIGER CUB buildings, set to be completed in 2023.
“For Princeton, [Shapiro’s] model speaks to not just the present energy system we have, but also the future and our efforts to get to net-zero,” said Ijeoma Nwagwu, assistant director of academic engagement and Campus as Lab initiatives at the Office of Sustainability. The model “is factoring in things that are very much top of mind for us, such as carbon emission reduction and how increased solar capacity will play a role,” said Nwagwu, who advised Shapiro on the research.