Photo Gallery : Schapiro Power House

Eileen Barroso
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Deep in the belly of the Shapiro Center for Engineering and Physical Science Research (CEPSR), two floors below ground level under classrooms and studying students, lies the Columbia University power plant, a facility responsible for the heating and cooling of more than 60 buildings on campus.

Amid humming and churning in the heart of CEPSR (pronounced "sepser"), three boilers pump some 170,000 pounds of steam a month to the HVAC, the heating and cooling system, for most campus buildings, and the hot water heating systems of the buildings on the Morningside Heights campus. Seventy-five percent of the condensation that results from steam pumped out of the power plant is recaptured, cleaned, de-oxidized and re-used in the system, making Columbia heat a minimal-waste process.

One floor above the boilers, three 1500-gallon electric drums hold water that is chilled to 45 degrees and pumped out to cool buildings. These chillers, in addition to two others on campus, keep Columbia cool from June to September. In winter, the University takes advantage of free cooling for science labs in Fairchild and Havemyer and other areas that need to be kept at lower temperatures, by pumping water to the roof to be chilled naturally by low outdoor temperatures, saving electricity and reducing emissions.

All this activity--boilers, chillers, the piping of water and steam and the emissions that result from the process--are monitored in the control room of the power plant by three computers under 24-hour watch by at least one specially-trained facilities technician. If abnormal readings develop, the system alerts the technician, who can then quickly manage potential problems.