Baldwin Hall

The Central Utility Plant powers all buildings on campus, including dorms, offices, and classrooms.

From the bright lights in Nippert Stadium to the ever-present glow in dining halls, the University of Cincinnati’s uptown campus is constantly humming with electricity. But students seldom question how UC is powered.

If you guessed that UC is connected to the city’s power grid, you guessed wrong. The university has its own energy infrastructure, most of which stems from UC’s Central Utility Plant.

Last week, students, faculty and staff were invited to tour the plant. The hour-long tour highlighted UC’s energy infrastructure and its mission to stay green.

Lead engineer Joe Allen showed off the plant’s main features: two titan combustion turbines, a Dresser-Rand steam turbine, five York chillers, two Trane Chillers, two ERI heat recovery steam generators and two Nebraska boilers.

These machines work in tandem to power UC. But to keep electricity flowing, the plant is staffed around the clock — even on holidays.

The plant went green roughly nine years ago. Before then, the university mainly burned coal to keep the lights on.

Instead of relying on coal or natural gas burners, the plant burns renewable wood pellets and recycles city water. The billowing clouds that arise from the plant may look like smoke, but they mainly consist of water vapor, Allen said.

“The most important thing is, you only want to boil H2O,” Allen said. “That’s how we make our power.”

The plant cleans city water and recycles approximately 89 percent of it, said Allen. A contractor stops by the plant every Wednesday to check the water treatment.

The plant provides electricity, heat, air conditioning and water to all residence halls, offices and classrooms throughout UC. To reach all areas of campus, UC uses an intricate underground tunnel system to push steam. The tunnels cover 13,947 linear feet, using 35,509 linear feet of steam pipes and 32,889 linear feet of chilled water pipes.

While the plant is unable to power UC’s satellite campuses, the university recently began negotiating with its electric supplier to bring greener energy to regional campuses like UC Blue Ash, which does not have its own energy infrastructure.

Despite its focus on green energy production, there are no definitive plans to pursue solar energy, Allen said.

“It is always in the talks, but energy changes,” Allen said. “Today, the leading method is solar. It could be something else tomorrow. These generators and equipment cost millions of dollars. We expect ours to last until at least 2040.”


David Rees has been with The News Record since 2018 as chief reporter, features editor, managing editor and now editor-in-chief. He previously interned at CityScene Media Group, Cincinnati Magazine, VMSD Magazine and Columbus Monthly.