Elara Decentralizes Steam Plant Serving Northwestern University’s Downtown Chicago Campus

Elara Engineering recently completed the first of two phases of engineering to decentralize an aging steam plant serving Northwestern University’s downtown Chicago campus through the design and installation of several distributed hot water, medium-pressure steam, and low-pressure steam boiler plants.

Through its assessment and investigation to define the project scope and objectives, Elara determined conversion to hot water heating via distributed plants presented opportunities for energy and maintenance savings while the remaining steam production could be focused specifically on humidification and process loads. Locating small, high pressure process boilers in each building near process users allows for a significant reduction in energy and maintenance while limiting the low-pressure steam plant to winter usage allows the plant to be shut off during the summer. This design approach reduces energy costs but also allows for maintenance to occur during the summer when the boilers are not operational. Most heating, re-heat, and domestic hot water loads are served from condensing hot water boilers to maximize energy savings.  Other identified benefits of decentralizing campus heating include updating a large portion of existing infrastructure and freeing up additional land for future development in a highly urbanized environment.

The first phase of the project – completed in Fall of 2018 — addressed six campus buildings that primarily house classroom and office spaces and that do not require process steam. With Elara’s design, Northwestern University’s Abbott Hall, 345 E. Superior building, Rubloff Building, Levy Mayer Hall, McCormick Hall, and Wieboldt Hall are now supported by three new boiler plants. The plants in Abbott Hall and 345 E. Superior are stand-alone systems dedicated to supporting the building they are housed within; whereas, the Rubloff Building boiler plant supports Levy Mayer Hall, McCormick Hall, Wieboldt Hall, and the Rubloff Building itself.

In addition to the development of permit documents, contractor selection assistance, construction services, and functional testing; Elara reviewed applicable local incentive programs, prepared applications, and facilitated the approval process for selected incentives. To date, $129,952 of incentives have been procured for this $5.9M project.