Wesleyan Pipe Conversion Project Anticipates Dramatic Energy Reduction

A $5.8 million sustainability project to convert steam plumbing to hot water plumbing recently completed the first of eight phases at Wesleyan University. When the conversion is done, the Connecticut university expects energy usage to be reduced by 25 to 30 percent. The total project will require replacement of some 10,000 feet of steam pipes and is expected to cost $39.3 million. The steam infrastructure currently provides building heat and hot water for much of the campus.

Student reporting in the Wesleyan Argus quoted university President Michael Roth as saying that the infrastructure update "is the most important thing we can do to become more energy efficient." The pipe conversion offers a number of benefits, the article explained.

First, generating water heat versus steam heat is more energy-efficient. While steam needs to be generated by heating water up to 300 degrees Fahrenheit, hot water pipes require water to be heated up to about 120 degrees, a "substantial decrease" in the institution's carbon footprint. Also, there's less energy and water loss with the water system over the steam system as the hot water disperses heat through buildings and then returns to the power plant.

Second, maintenance and staff injuries will be reduced. In the last three years, the story noted, the school has spent $1.35 million steam pipe system repairs; and staff have been injured by the steam as they have worked on the pipes.

Third, when the new infrastructure is in place, it could enable the university to convert from natural gas to renewable energy. Currently, according to the reporting, 88 percent of the school's energy use comes from natural gas, at least for those buildings that are on the steam piping. Once the conversion is done, the university could also replace its natural gas boilers with "ground source (geothermal) heat pumps, enabling buildings to be heated through electricity generated by solar panels and purchasing renewable energy off the grid instead of using fossil fuels.

The next phase of the project is scheduled for summer 2021. The remainder of the future work hasn't been scheduled.

The university has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2035.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.