April 12, 2012
Low cost of natural gas allows for five-month test
For the next five months, Ohio University's Lausche Heating Plant will operate entirely on natural gas.
Thanks to the low-cost of natural gas, caused by the mild winter, the University was able to secure a large amount of the fuel.
"Director of Energy Management Tim Strissel identified an opportunity to purchase blocks of gas, known as hedging. We can guarantee the price for 55 percent of our gas needs and purchase the rest on the open market as needed during the summer," explained Mike Gebeke, executive director of facilities management. "It is anticipated that the cost during the summer will be lower than the 'hedged' amount. This led to the idea that we could burn gas to power the plant over the summer for less than the cost of burning coal. This is the first time in the history of Lausche that this has been possible."
But, the benefits will be more than financial. Natural gas use is safer for the environment than coal.
"There will be a fairly large calculated reduction in greenhouse gasses and other pollutants. We expect that we will reduce carbon dioxide by 41 percent, carbon monoxide by 41 percent, sulfur by almost 100 percent, mercury by almost 99 percent, nitrogen oxides by 75 percent, and particulates by 51 percent."
These five months will also serve as a pilot for the University's eventual full conversion to natural gas, estimated to happen in 2015.
Ohio University has always burned natural gas, but according to Strissel, it only accounted for approximately 15 percent of the fuel used. As a result, the natural gas boilers were not being used at full efficiency. During this five-month test, the boiler will be run near capacity.
This is not only a test for the entire Athens campus steam system but for the University's two natural gas boilers. If they perform well during the test, they will not need to be replaced during the heating plant's full conversion to natural gas in later years.
If the five months are determined to be a success and natural gas prices remain low, there is a possibility that the University may extend the test by two months. All data collected from the test will be made available to the public.
"The data will be shared so everyone can learn of the plant condition assessments and overall performance and see new opportunities," said Strissel. "I believe Ohio University will see the price gap of steam plant operation in 100 percent natural gas fuel mode is narrower than previously thought. The plant's overall electrical cost is much less when only firing natural gas."
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