Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently planning to expand its existing cogeneration plant, making it more efficient and environmentally friendly while enabling independence from the grid.

MIT is moving away from oil to less polluting natural gas, as it looks to power the growing University’s activities for the coming quarter of a century.
MIT dome view
“We’ll be capable of operating off the grid,” says MIT’s Don Holmes of the Central Utilities Plant, which provides electricity as well as heating and cooling. “We’re looking at the new plant as a bridge to the future. This is the best solution as we stand now.”

The university plans to replace its single 20-year-old natural gas turbine with a new one, install a second turbine, and complete upgrades to its chilled water plant, whiledoubling its turbine capacity to 42 MW.

The upgraded plant will still emit 10 per cent fewer greenhouse gases in 2020 (than in 2014) and will help the university meet its commitment to cut overall emissions 32 per cent by 2030. The turbines can be started without external grid power, and key components will be sited above the anticipated 500-year flood level, enabling the plant to operate even during the worst of storms.

Julie Newman, campus sustainability director, says MIT will soon start reviewing ways to produce renewable energy on-site or off-site. Currently, the campus doesn’t use solar power, except for lighting the dome. In January, MIT published it first comprehensive campus greenhouse gas inventory to help guide future plans.

Episodes such as the relatively recent Hurricane Sandy have increased the regard universities and businesses have for technology that can allow services to continue during grid disruption.

“There’s an emerging movement in higher education toward resiliency,” says Newman. She says MIT’s plant expansion, which intends to double its capacity, will enable the university to “withstand anything that happens around us.”