Exploring Previously Closed Doors

During the school year, and even during the summer, I find myself walking out of the library and along the paved pathway that greets its steps on a daily basis. On the way, I inadvertently walk past the corner of Jonas Clark through which a series of colorful pipes can be seen below. More than once I’ve stood there, looking down at all the bits and pieces that make Clark run. Maybe that’s a somewhat climactic buildup to getting a tour of our co-generation plant and boiler room, but I had fun going there. Here’s a little peak of what it looks like on the inside…


A major take away from my short time there was gaining an understanding for the reason of all the construction going on around Bullock Hall. If anyone was curious like I was, here’s the answer. Pete, the very nice guy who showed me around, told me that he feels he and his team have gone after a lot of the major projects and are now picking at the “low lying fruit.” This new construction is being done so that new pipes can be laid in the ground. These pipes will be better protected from erosion and will not leak like the older pipes they are replacing currently do. As a result, more heat will be able to make its way from its starting point to it’s end point without escaping. Thus, the effectiveness of the co-generation plant will be enhanced significantly. These new pipes, in connection with new condensing boilers, will allow less heat to escape.

By the time we got to the control room Pete was smiling. Leaning in close to hear his voice over all the noise, I learned about all the automation that helps make his job so much easier and efficient. He showed me all the meters measuring the energy output, and explained how there is a sweet spot at which everything runs extremely smoothly. It just so happens that as a result more energy is created than Clark actually needs. The “extra” bit is then put back into the system. It was around this time that Pete started to explain the plan to black out the entire campus and start everything up using these new installations. This is something that I want to learn more about. Though I did my best to take notes, the near deafening drone of everything running down there made it tough to do so.

Oh, and one more thing. Solar roadways. After we had made our way back to the front of the building, Pete asked if I had read about solar roadways, which have been making sound in various news outlets as of late. When I told him that I had he smiled, shrugged, and said something along the lines of – why not here? Though this technology surely has lots of advancement to make before large-scale installations start to make sense, there is no denying the potential that could result.

Though this is a technology that has existed and been in production since around 2009, it was only recently that there was an extreme spike in media interest thanks to a certain viral video of Kony like proportions. The video I’m talking about was put up on YouTube a little more than a month ago and already has close to 17 million views. Unlike Kony, this video has some good things to say, and Pete seems to agree. He told me that now that now that many of the older pieces of technology have been replaced and new boilers are going in there is no obvious next big project for the time being. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration has commissioned parking lots to be built out of these photovoltaic cells. Who knows, maybe that little smile Pete gave means he wants to see some of those here on campus is the future. Not only would they be able to generate more than enough energy, he said, but they would also show significant cuts in snow removal assuming they work as they should. Who knows. I guess time will have to tell.


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