New Mexico State University has turned its campus power system into a modern showcase for energy efficiency through a foundational overhaul of its Utilities and Plant Operations.
That includes in-house development of an online, automated control network to perform real-time, campuswide allocation of electricity when and where it’s needed, with 24/7 monitoring of everything for instantaneous action as issues arise.
It also includes a massive, industrial-scale ice-making facility that opened on campus in 2013 to supply chilled water for efficient, energy-saving cooling of all university buildings.
The plant makes ice during the night and in the morning when electricity is cheap. It then shuts down during peak electric consumption in the hot afternoon hours, when electric rates climb to their highest point as homes and buildings crank up their air conditioners. That’s when the plant switches to ice-melt mode, supplying chilled water for cooling across campus.
Today, the ice plant alone saves enough electricity annually to power nearly 500 houses year-round.
With all the structural changes combined – including the online control network, the ice plant and NMSU’s switch to off-peak electric consumption – the university has cut its electric and gas bills in half while substantially reducing its carbon footprint, Utilities and Plant Operations Director Patrick Chavez said.
“We used to spend, like, $1 million per month on average before the ice plant and the smart-control network came online,” Chavez said. “Now, our electric and gas bills fluctuate between $300,000 and $500,000 per month. It’s less than half what we were paying before.”
The university supplies about 50% of its electricity from its own gas-powered generating facility, built in the 1960s. The rest comes from El Paso Electric, which has now partnered with NMSU to bring a new, 3-megawatt solar array with backup battery storage online in November. That will cut NMSU’s carbon footprint a lot more.
The university also installed a co-generation system in 1998 at its gas plant to capture waste heat from the gas turbine. That heat creates steam, which is used to operate the turbines part of the time, offsetting gas combustion in the generating facility. The steam is also used to heat buildings and water on campus.
The entire system is now a “living lab” for research and education at NMSU.
“We’re merging traditional facility operations with academics to become a true learning platform for our students and faculty,” Chavez said.