While the finished product is largely invisible, it is certainly heard by most of the university community. The Chiller Plant Phase II upgraded the air conditioning systems for several buildings on campus. The chilled water network supplies chilled water to the air handling units in buildings throughout the campus to provide air conditioners. After passing through these air handling units, the existing hot water is recycled throughout the campus and into the chiller plants to be cooled and recirculated back into the buildings.
As part of the project, buildings originally built with stand-alone coolers were connected to the chilled water circuit and those stand-alone coolers were shut off – saving operations and maintenance costs.
About 40 percent of the air-conditioned buildings on the Blacksburg campus are part of the same continuous cycle supplied by two chiller plants, providing additional downtime.
“The Chiller Plant Phase Two project has significantly improved our chilled water infrastructure at Virginia Tech’s Biscburg campus,” said Devin Taylor, vice president of capital construction. “Through the interconnection of chilled water plants, future maintenance work requiring a total shutdown of the chilled water network will be significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated.”
The frozen water infrastructure project is another example of Virginia Tech’s commitment to climate action. The new loop will help reduce the building’s energy consumption, helping to enable the university’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
“When multi-purpose buildings are connected to the same circuit, you can provide the same cooling to all buildings, with less total energy,” said Paul Ely, associate director of capital construction. Air conditioning at different times of the day, meaning when the coldest air conditioner isn’t needed for one, that energy can be used to cool another.
Since the start of the Chiller Plant Phase Two project in 2019, electricity consumption for chilled water generation in fiscal year 2022 has decreased by 54 percent, compared to the five-year average annual consumption prior to construction of 19.6 million kWh. It showed an hourly discount. This equates to approximately $1.8 million in energy cost savings.
“Environmental impact avoidance is significant as Phase II of the Chiller Plant nears completion. Since construction began, it has reduced the emissions of the average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle by 8,479 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, or 21,046,244 miles. “The Office of Energy Management is operating and monitoring the performance of the chilled water system to maintain a sustainable, efficient and effective supply of energy to campus customers.”
In the year Completed in 2013, the Southwest Chiller Plant received LED Silver certification. It has been designed with the capacity to expand to meet the future needs of new buildings. The west exterior wall of the southwest chiller plant can be easily removed or expanded and features a “green wall” of live, ivy-type plants that help visually blend in with its surroundings.