Austin Energy Partners With ACC Highland to Keep Campus Cool and Energy Efficient

October 5, 2022

You’ve likely heard about Austin Energy’s power plants, but you might be surprised to learn the utility also has district cooling plants. Austin Energy and Austin Community College teamed up to build the latest district cooling plant at the school’s Highland campus. The district cooling plant serves as a massive air conditioner for the school while using a fraction of the energy it normally would during peak demand times for energy.

Machines called “chillers” chill millions of gallons of water during off-peak hours when electricity demand is low. The cooled water is stored in a large thermal energy storage tank and then pumped throughout the day to buildings bringing cool air to the campus. The Chilled Water Plant currently serves about 8,200 students, but as the Highland Campus continues to expand, that number will grow to 11,800 students.

While individual homes and smaller commercial buildings typically use their own personal air conditioning system, buildings with a larger footprint benefit from a district cooling setup. So does the environment. While most of us are asleep, the plant comes to life cooling the water when the demand on the grid is less and power is cheapest. This lowers the customer’s operating cost. This setup also provides less stress on the grid by providing cooled water for HVAC use during peak demand.

“With the effects of climate change, air conditioning is becoming more and more important,” Environmental Policy Program Manager, James Matlock, said. “This summer’s hot temperatures showed us how important it is to operate in a more sustainable manner.”

The utility’s design and operation of the plant meets the goals of the Austin Energy Green Building program in performing load shifting, including a 24/7 monitoring system and preventative maintenance program. This improves the reliability of the system and places an emphasis on energy efficiency.

“Collaborating with Austin Energy to bring this new state-of-the-art chiller plant online helps ensure that our students, faculty, and staff are comfortable in our buildings during even the hottest Austin summers,” said ACC Interim Vice Chancellor of Facilities and Construction Aziz Hussaini. “Due to the application of a thermal energy storage tank, the peak demand energy reduction over traditional HVAC systems is substantial and we’re doing our part to ensure the grid is in good shape to serve our community.”

The ACC chilling plant is one of seven district energy and cooling plants the utility manages, including four facilities downtown, one at the Domain and one at the Mueller development.

Check out this YouTube video about the project