Research & Innovation

Seniors Design Concept for Hudson River Power Plant to Efficiently and Affordably Meet Stevens’ Growing Energy Needs

According to its ten-year strategic plan released in 2012, Stevens expects to increase the undergraduate student population by 60 percent – to 4,000 students – by 2022.

Among the many things those students will need are heat and electricity.

A multidisciplinary team of Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering students have developed a cost effective alternative for heat and power production that they say can not only accommodate the growing demand for power at Stevens, but also produce a 40 percent energy savings for the university.

For their senior design project, the Cogeneration at Stevens Institute of Technology (COAST) team has developed a complete conceptual design for a 150-foot mobile power barge which will dock in the Hudson River near Stevens’ Hoboken campus and provide the university with power.

The COAST team says Stevens faces a number of challenges in powering campus, given its lack of unutilized facilities on campus, dependency on outsourced power production from PSEG, and expected student growth. They designed the COAST system to solve each one.

 “The COAST system is a tailored solution for the Stevens campus, meeting the seasonal heat and electricity demands while achieving the highest possible system efficiency and utilizing minimal area,” said team member Julie Wilkerson.

Specifically designed to meet Stevens’ unique needs, the system maximizes efficiency and has less environmental impact than the average power plant. Since power use on campus fluctuates with the academic year, it incorporates a multi-stage extraction steam turbine to enable flexible power production.

“The COAST power barge produces 5.9 megawatts of electricity and up to 37 thousand pounds of steam per hour to heat the campus,” said Wilkerson. “Designed top to bottom for efficiency, it achieves a maximum system efficiency of 80 percent.”

With its river location, the COAST system does not take up any space within Stevens’ existing campus facilities. In addition, its semi-permanent docking solution even allows for the ability to provide emergency power during natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy which knocked out power at Stevens for almost one week.

“The Hudson River location saves valuable real estate for use in campus development and allows for emergency removal to protect the system in natural disasters and use it for natural disaster relief,” Wilkerson said. “Designed with Hoboken’s power constraints in mind, power from the barge is routed through custom-designed high capacity cables to the campus switchgear, where the electricity is distributed. The incorporation of net metering also allows Stevens to sell excess electricity to private customers, such as the Hoboken municipality and local businesses.”

Currently, Stevens uses both cogeneration and solar energy systems to provide electrical and thermal power to campus, but it also contracts power production and natural gas from PSEG, which has cost the university almost $22 million since 2006. The COAST team estimates that without an alternative solution, that price tag will only increase given growing student enrollment and rising energy costs.

So, while the COAST system would require an investment of $13 million, the students believe the investment would be well worth it for the university. They estimate it would save Stevens $2 million annually, paying for itself within seven years and accumulating a total savings of $48 million over the system’s 30-year lifetime.

In addition, the Stevens and Hoboken communities are committed to environmental consciousness, so the COAST system is designed to be compatible with the existing local electrical grid, as well as comply with all state and local regulations.

Although the COAST system is designed specifically for Stevens, it could be a viable solution for other universities, businesses and governments which want to cut utility costs, reduce their carbon footprint, or become independent power providers. In fact, universities like New York University, University of Connecticut, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ohio State University have already integrated cogeneration systems into their campuses.

“We expect many more organizations to consider cogeneration systems as both a permanent energy solution and for emergency disaster relief,” said Wilkerson.

The COAST team includes eight graduating seniors: Civil Engineering majors Trevor Bradley and Lexie Handel; Mechanical Engineering majors Philip Clark, Michael Geraci, Amy Sedlak and Julie Wilkerson; and Electrical Engineering majors Tim D’Emidio and George Lehaf. The team is sponsored by URS, an engineering, construction and technical services provider, whose advisors provided valuable insight into power plant, barge and power distribution design. The faculty advisor was Stevens Mechanical Engineering Professor Jay Boyalakuntla.

The COAST project will be on display at the Stevens Innovation Expo on April 24.