Campus Energy Systems

Our commitment to sustainable energy has made the Ithaca campus a pioneer in energy conservation and renewable energy supply. The campus is powered by a state of the art Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP), and our energy systems include Lake Source Coolingrenewable energy systems on campus and offsite including a hydroplant and solar farms and future plans for Earth Source Heat.

Campus Energy Systems Overview

Cornell provides for much of its own heating and cooling needs and electric production and has made sustainable energy management a priority since 1985. The Ithaca campus uses ~1/1000th of New York State’s electricity load, making our systems ideal test beds for demonstrating energy solutions. 

Campus carbon neutrality is a primary focus of our energy systems, in addition to reliability.

Diagram showing overview of campus energy systems at cornell in place and proposed, including solar, hydroplant, lake source cooling and combined heat and power today, with future solar and earth source heat proposed

Combined Heat and Power

The Com­bined Heat and Power Plant (CHP) uses the simultaneous production of electricity and utilization of “waste” heat for campus heating. 

Commonly known as ‘cogeneration,’ combined heat and power is a way to increase the efficiency of power plants. Standard power plants effectively use just 40 percent of the fuel they burn to produce electricity. The remainder of the fuel ends up  "wasted" up the smokestack. Reject heat can be used in a surrounding area through a district energy system. Combined heat and power is only possible however when there is an area near the plant that has a need for the heat – like a university, for example!

"Beyond Coal"

When Cornell committed to carbon neutrality in 2007, the campus knew it was time to transition the coal-fired power plant to a more efficient and sustainable system.  Options studied included peaking boilers, renewing use of coal, biofuels, and cogeneration.

Cogeneration was selected due to lowest life cycle cost, fuel flexibility, reliability, emissions reduction.  Moving to CHP became a campaign called Beyond Coal.