In the wake of unprecedented cold temperatures enveloping nearly the entire United States, utility companies, including Lincoln Electric System, have requested that customers reduce energy use to alleviate capacity limitations on power grids.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has taken emergency actions to respond. Lalit Agarwal, director of maintenance and utility services, said the utility plants on City and East campuses are now being run on backup, diesel-fueled generators, in an effort to relieve some of the strain on community power grid.
The university’s facilities team is in regular contact with the LES team and were made aware the situation had become tenuous.
“As a good partner, we are switching our utility plants to run on our emergency generators to shave a little load for LES and help out the city, continuing our commitment to collaboration,” Agarwal said.
Removing campus utility plants from the local power grid is saving LES 750 to 1,000 kilowatts. Agarwal said the university plans to continue using the generators for at least another 36 hours, as temperatures are expected to warm slightly on Feb. 17.
The backup generators are tested monthly and used for short durations during unforeseen electrical outages, but this is the first time in Agarwal’s tenure that the university has needed to use them for an extended period.
Additionally, due to the natural gas shortage caused by the historic frigid weather, university utilities personnel switched the boilers at the utility plants to run on diesel, instead of natural gas. The switch took place Feb. 12 and will continue until Feb. 17.
Natural gas rates have skyrocketed over the past few days, Agarwal said, from a typical range of $5 to $8 per Million British Thermal Units to $500+ per MMBTU, which also added a budgetary urgency to the switch.
“Our natural gas supplier is in constant communication with us and they gave us a heads up on Thursday that we might be asked to get off of natural gas,” Agarwal said. “We began planning and made the switch on Friday to diesel, and we did receive the official notice of curtailment starting Saturday morning.”
To further conserve energy, the university has shifted into heating reduction mode, and will continue into the early morning hours of Feb. 17.
“In-person classes are cancelled and non-essential staff is asked to work remotely for February 16, so we’ll keep non-critical building temperatures at 55 degrees,” he said. “We’ll probably start recovering back to normal temperatures overnight tomorrow.”