ATLANTIC CITY — New technology that slashed electricity costs by nearly 25 percent at the Midtown Thermal Control Center may benefit people from Dubai and Abu Dhabi to California and Texas.
The 17-year-old Atlantic Avenue plant functions as a massive air-conditioning system that cools several Boardwalk casinos and hotels, Boardwalk Hall and the Pier Shops at Caesars.
The International District Energy Association said plant owner Pepco Energy Services and industry consultants developed and implemented an innovative software platform that makes the complex system run much more efficiently.
The result: electricity savings exceeding 10 million kilowatt hours annually.
That’s enough to power more than 920 homes all year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“It has more to do with the nerve center of the plant than the skeleton and the muscles,” said Robert Thornton, president of the Massachusetts-based trade group that gave Pepco its international 2014 Innovation Award in June. “What they’ve really done is create this brain stem and a dashboard. ... You can see the whole plant thinking, like it’s thinking and alive.”
Inside the plant, giant flat-screen televisions display digital models of plant segments that show current performance. It includes a calculation of the energy savings compared to 2011.
On a recent weekday, the monitors showed the plant performing nearly 23 percent more efficiently.
Patrick Towbin, vice president of asset management for Pepco Energy Services, said the system is a computer that looks at all operations and makes minute adjustments to pumps, chillers and cooling towers.
“It starts making the best possible selection so you can consume the least amount of electricity for the most amount of chilled water produced,” he said.
Pepco Energy Services is a subsidiary of Atlantic City Electric’s parent company, Pepco Holdings Inc.
The Midtown Thermal Control Center, which opened in 1997, chills water to 42 degrees and sends it along a 5-mile loop of underground pipes. At its core, it is a massively oversized air conditioner. There are 14 chillers on the plant floor, each about the size and shape of a two-man submarine. Cooling towers on the roof allow heat to escape.
The chilled water is pumped underground to Caesars Atlantic City, Trump Plaza, Bally’s, Claridge Hotel, Boardwalk Hall and the Pier Shops at Caesars, before returning back to the plant, warmer and ready to be chilled again, said John Rauch, manager of plant operations for Pepco Energy Services. The plant also produces heat and steam.
The energy-efficiency project cost $1.7 million and was implemented in October, he said.
With nearly a half-million dollars in annual energy savings and a $500,000 rebate from the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy in February, the project will have paid for itself in about two years, Rauch said.
Large properties require chilling, even in winter, due to the concentrations of people, electronics and slot machines, Towbin said.
Summertime sees the highest demands — the peak load can be five times higher than in winter.
Yet the biggest gains in energy efficiency come in spring, fall and winter, when there is more room to adjust the parameters of cooling equipment that is not running near full capacity.
Towbin said that previously, there were some tell-tale signs the plant was not performing optimally.
There were times in the past when the electricity was costlier than the product, particularly during peak demand times when power is more expensive, he said.
“It pushes you to find out what’s wrong with the plant and where the specific inefficiencies are,” he said.
The International District Energy Association, which has 1,700 members in 25 nations, said it does not disclose how many contestants were considered for its global innovation award.
Last year’s award went to a large district cooling company in Dubai and its approach to reduce potable water needs at the plant, Thornton said.
Thornton said the technology deployed in Atlantic City has great potential globally. This is especially true in areas of the Middle East, where air -conditioner use can account for 70 percent of electricity consumed.
“Big changes in efficiency can reduce energy uses and greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “Within our industry, there are dozens of applications for progress like this. Every day, people are working hard at solving energy efficiency problems.”
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