Distributed thermal utility systems have much in common with any other mechanical system: they require planning, sizing, and may someday need to be expanded. However, the large capital costs associated with these renovations or expansions is what sets them apart. Replacing large chillers, pumps, or boilers, or upsizing failed or undersized distribution piping is typically not something that can be done “at the last minute”. Most campuses with distributed thermal utility systems can simply not afford to forge ahead without a plan for the future. EEA has worked with both higher education and municipal customers to develop plans for their thermal utility systems. These plans are occasionally developed as part of a broader campus master planning effort.
Most thermal utility plans focus on capacity expansion and renewal, so we first establish an understanding of the campus’ operation and loading. Then anticipated future loads are accounted for and the size of generating equipment can be predicted. However, generating capacity is only half of the story. In many cases, limited pipe sizes and issues with building return water temperature are the limiting factors in how much, and how reliably, a plant can service its customers. We are able to understand these issues by generating calibrated hydraulic models of the distribution systems and simulating the results of recommended improvements. Often, these models result in owners and operators learning details about their system of which they themselves were not aware. These models, along with a detailed capacity analysis, allow system owners and operators to prepare for the future and plan in advance to avoid last-minute emergencies.