Austin, TX: Crescent Chiller Project Begins

ARTICLE | Jul 28, 2014

Austin Energy is moving forward this month to increase the number of downtown buildings that can use chilled water as a critical part of their air conditioning systems. A major step in this effort came from installing a temporary chiller unit on a small lot behind the Gables Park Tower development at 111 Sandra Muraida Way to serve immediate customer needs at the Seaholm Development District.

By purchasing chilled water from Austin Energy, building owners can reduce the need to set aside expensive downtown space for air conditioning equipment including rooftop cooling towers while increasing reliability, aesthetics and the value of their property.

With thermal storage technology, Austin Energy creates the “cold” at night, when electric use is down, and distributes it through a system of buried pipes during the hottest summer hours. In 2013, this system moved 15 megawatts of peak power from the most expensive to the least expensive times, saving money for all electric users. Fifteen megawatts can power around 15,000 homes.

The district cooling system enables people to live and work downtown by helping to create an efficient and environmentally friendly way to cool buildings.

“The system works for 10 million square feet of space in downtown Austin,” said Jim Collins, Austin Energy’s On-Site Energy Resources Director. “When it is completed, we can substantially increase our capacity to keep downtown Austin cool. Downtown is booming and a central system makes it more compact and energy-efficient.”

A critical step in expanding the system is to place a single chiller and cooling tower mounted on a trailer initially to serve downtown development projects including the Seaholm District and the new Central Library. As the air conditioning needs from these projects increase, a second chilling unit will be installed at the site. The temporary units are an interim step to closing the loop at the western end of the downtown chiller system.

Austin Energy will incorporate various ways to dampen noise produced by the equipment including sound-buffering mats on the perimeter fence, sound reducing devices on the cooling tower intake and discharge and insulating the chiller’s compressor.

Additional piping will tie the system into the downtown chilling system and provide additional service during high-demand periods. The temporary facility will be replaced by a permanent unit specifically designed for the space. Austin Energy will seek the ideas of local residents about the design characteristics of the permanent facility this fall.

A third chiller plant will increase the downtown system’s capacity and energy efficiency.

“What we do results in a lower cost for Austin Energy, and those savings go directly to every one of our electric customers,” Collins said.

There are currently two chiller plants downtown, one at 300 San Antonio St. named the T. Paul Robbins District Cooling Plant and the other at 410 Sabine St. called DCP2. The downtown system cools about 10 million square-feet of space for 32 customers, including Spring Condominium, The Austonian, Austin City Hall, J.W. Marriott and Ballet Austin.

The downtown system also features the largest ice thermal storage system in Central Texas, which allows of off-peak demand management and increases energy efficiency savings.Along with the downtown system, Austin Energy also has district cooling plants in the Domain and the Mueller development. Some 42 customers receive chilled water services from Austin Energy‘s On-Site Energy Resources.

There are more than 800 district energy systems nationwide, including in Manhattan where more than 1,800 large customers and buildings are served by a district energy system. In Phoenix, where customers include the Phoenix Convention Center at the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball stadium, electricity use has been lowered by 13 percent when customers connect to district cooling. In Austin, The University of Texas campus has not relied on the Texas grid since 1929 due to its use of its own district energy system.

For more information on Austin Energy’s on-site energy systems and the district cooling system, visit or call 512-322-6302.

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