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A Beacon of Sustainability - Powering the University of Minnesota

What do you do when you have an energy shortage, a decrepit and contaminated coal-powered steam plant from 1912 that’s built into a bluff of the Mississippi river and an aggressive goal to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by the year 2020?

The answer? Bring in Jacobs. Partnering closely with the University of Minnesota and their contractors, Jacobs helped convert the plant – named “Old Main”  – into a model of modern efficiency and sustainability, resulting in a facility that produces enough electricity and thermal energy to generate all of the University’s steam heat and will save them around $8M per year in electrical and heating costs. 

Key to the success of the project was a complex right-sizing analysis performed by the Jacobs team, which resulted in a revised plant concept costing $1 million more than the original recommendation, but reducing the total anticipated cost of operation, including purchased utilities and maintenance costs, by an additional $98 million during the first 20 years of operation. This wasn’t just a money saving solution, however:  Jacobs also concluded that the optimized equipment would reduce the University’s carbon footprint by an additional 690 million pounds over the 30-year design life of the equipment compared to the original concept, so the benefits to the University’s carbon reduction plan were obvious.

Converting a plant like this required constant innovation to solve the many challenges that arose due to the age of the structure and its location next to the river.  Arranging the new equipment into the facility without negatively impacting the 100-year-old structure and surroundings required adopting an equipment configuration normally used in marine applications. Electrical systems were substantially reconfigured across the campus to maximize plant uptime, providing cost savings and improving energy resiliency. Finally, tying into the existing campus heating and power distribution systems required detailed planning and construction phasing plans to maintain continuous operation for the duration of construction.

Now regarded as a beacon of efficiency and sustainability, the new Combined Heat and Power Plant has revolutionized the production of energy on the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. In the first year of steady operation, which began in 2017, the University expects to reduce the consumption of purchased power from the utility grid by more than 60 percent, while also reducing greenhouse gases caused by the consumption of all heat and power on the Minneapolis campus by at least 10 percent, ensuring that the University is well on the way to achieving its carbon emission targets. 


Iconic location on the banks of the Mississippi river. 
Inside the new plant. 
Inside the new plant. 
Jacobs Project Manager Chris Farr at work in the new plant.
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