Duquesne University, Clearway ink deal for more energy-efficient campus

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64% of students say the greener the institute, the more likely they are to study there.

By U2B Staff 

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Duquesne University in Pittsburgh has entered a 40-year energy services agreement with Clearway Energy, following the university’s sale of its trigeneration facility to the clean power firm.

This makes Duquesne the second higher learning institute in the US and the first in Pennsylvania to monetise energy assets via a trigeneration facility.

According to the university, the partnership creates an arrangement to connect the Duquesne System, which is now owned and operated by Clearway, to a neighbouring Clearway system. This will make operating the two facilities more efficient, as well as provide back-up capacity if either one shuts down for maintenance or other reasons.

The agreement also brings economic value to the university as it monetises excess steam produced in the plant.

What is trigeneration?

Trigeneration refers to combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP), a process in which heat produced by a cogeneration plant is used to generate chilled water or air conditioning or refrigeration.

The Duquesne facility, for example, converts excess steam that otherwise becomes waste into energy for electricity, water heating and cooling. It generates more than three-quarters of the power consumed by the university’s nearly 10,000 students, helping keep the campus warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

CHP towers
Trigeneration refers to combined cooling, heat and power.

“Clearway is excited to partner with Duquesne to provide efficient and reliable electricity, steam, and chilled water services.

“Our long-standing presence and continued investment in Pittsburgh’s downtown district energy system positioned us to further expand with the addition of the Duquesne System via a planned interconnection to our neighboring system,” said Jim Lodge, Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at Clearway.

“With the additional capacity of the combined systems, we now have the ability to form a new and modern city-wide district energy system, helping improve resiliency and efficiency for schools, hospitals, and other customers in Pittsburgh.”

University-led clean power drive

Amid fears of climate change and global warming, governments and private sectors across the globe have been urged to pour serious investment into transitioning to a sustainable energy future. Interestingly, China, although the world’s biggest polluter, is also the world’s biggest investor in renewable energies, going from US$3 billion in 2004 to US$100 billion by 2015 (3,400 percent increase).

In the US, investment in renewables amounted to around US$57 billion in 2015, close to half that of China’s and slightly higher than Europe’s US$49 billion.


But US universities are picking up the slack and leading by example. According to Environment America, small liberal arts colleges, as well as larger public universities and community colleges across the country are moving towards a serious reduction in energy consumption, deploying renewable energy technologies and switching to electric vehicles.

Over 40 percent of colleges and universities now harvest 100 percent or more of their electricity from renewable power sources. As large energy users, these institutes of higher learning are best placed to employ microgrids and district heating and cooling systems that help expect potential uses for renewable energy.

On top of establishing themselves as advocates of a sustainable future, these initiatives are also attractive to potential students. Today’s prospective student cohort tend to be more environmentally conscious and institutions that are leading the sustainability charge often become their university of choice. A Princeton Review survey this year said of nearly 12,000 college applicants, 64 percent consider the schools’ environmental commitments (such as commitments to renewable energy) when deciding which institute to attend.

Leading by example

As such, the Duquesne-Clearway agreement is timely and adds to a growing momentum in the higher education sector to monetise energy assets under public-private partnerships and outsource energy services. This allows them to reinvest in their core education mission.

“Clearway is an industry leader with vast experience operating combined heat, cooling, and power generating plants across the United States. This partnership will allow Duquesne to focus its resources on its core mission of educating students,” said Matt Frist, Vice President for Finance and Business for Duquesne.

“Further, this initiative directly aligns with the University’s strategic plan and one of the city of Pittsburgh’s Eco-Innovation District goals aimed at pursuing solutions for district energy within Uptown.”

Duquesne’s utility system was originally constructed in 1967 and was in 1997 converted to a trigeneration facility.