Last year, Houston-based Texas Medical Center celebrated the completion of an energy-efficient, 48 megawatt combined heat and power system. The Medical Center projects that new system, funded in part by a $10 million Recovery Act grant, will help save about $200 million in energy costs over the next 15 years — a big number, even by Texas standards.
The current scope of care and services provided by the Texas Medical Center is enormous. It’s home to 14 hospitals and 21 academic institutions, the center delivers 28,000 babies a year, provides instruction for 71,500 students and offers professional facilities for 20,000 physicians, scientists and researchers. As a measure of how much energy the facility needs to serve all these people, the sprawling complex even has its own electrical company, called the Thermal Energy Corporation (TECO).
While the Medical Center charted its continuing expansion, TECO launched a strategy to keep pace with the center’s growing energy needs. Having completed an ambitious $377 million plant project, dedicated this past Tuesday, the Texas Medical Center is now a model for energy efficiency, operating flexibility and environmental sustainability.
Key to the project is the plant’s new combined heat and power system. Combined heat and power plants are ideal for large facilities that demand a great deal of heat and electricity to operate efficiently. Systems, like those at work at the new TECO plant, channel energy that would be wasted as heat by a conventional generation process back into productive uses — such as air conditioning, space heating and sterilization in the form of steam, chilled water or even additional electricity.
The money saved by conserving energy with combined heat and power can add up fast. Separately producing heat and power has a combined efficiency of about 45 percent, while TECO’s new system can operate at efficiency levels approaching 80 percent — all while improving system security and reliability by reducing or eliminating dependence on its regional electric grids.
According to TECO, its efficiency overhaul is supported more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in manufacturing, engineering and construction, including approximately 400 jobs directly associated with construction of the combined heat and power plant. The plant now supports the largest district chilled-water system in the country.