History & Transformation of Power Management
Stanford University’s expansive educational, recreational, and residential facilities provide a space for success for over 30,000 people every day.
Since the school was founded in 1891, utility management for the majority of campus buildings has been overseen by skilled teams of university staff. Now known as the Sustainability, Utilities & Infrastructure (SUI) department, this group supports the university’s academic mission by ensuring that energy, heating, and cooling demands are always met while embracing Stanford’s core value of sustaining life on Earth.
The First Power Plant
Prior to the establishment of a large area power grid, most electricity was generated in small plants near its point of use. When construction began on the Stanford campus in the late 1880s, a power plant for lighting and mechanical power was one of the first buildings constructed. The original building, which now houses the Stanford Archaeology Center, contained a coal-fired boiler and direct current (DC) generator.
New Power House
In March 1908, a commission of Stanford engineers raised the question of renovating the Power House, which had been slated for use as an engineering laboratory after earthquake-related reconstruction drove the relocation of some academic programs. The Board of Trustees voted to completely rebuild the Power House, and the project was completed by October 1908 at a final cost of $13,480. The renovated Power House continued to serve the campus until it was replaced by a boiler house located on Galvez Street (now the site of the Arrillaga Alumni Center) in 1913. By this time, the campus was being served by power from the developing utility grid.
New Boiler House
A new boiler house was built in 1948 by G.E. Rahm Company of San Francisco. This project was part of a greater renovation of the energy system. The installation of new boiler equipment in Stanford’s main steam plant was viewed as a critical step towards modernizing the university’s steam production and distribution system. As part of the project, the plant’s smokestack was removed in 1949.
Commissioning of Cogen Plant
The cogeneration plant was commissioned in 1987 and was owned and operated by Cardinal Cogen, a subsidiary of General Electric. The plant was a combined-cycle power plant consisting of a natural gas powered turbine, a waste heat recovery steam generator, and a steam-powered turbine. Stanford used about 60% of the electrical power (the balance was sold to PG&E) and 80% of the low-grade waste heat generated by the plant. The high efficiency of Cardinal Cogen saved Stanford over $1 million each year. Cardinal Cogen supplied the campus with energy, hot water, and heating through the spring of 2015.
Board of Trustees Approves Concept of SESI
In December 2011, Stanford’s Board of Trustees approved the plan for a new energy system known as the Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI) project. SESI was designed in an effort to reduce the university’s greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption while meeting energy demands. The Board recognized SESI as a vital step towards the university’s climate action plan, which includes the goal of net zero emissions by 2050.