University begins new microgrid project

During the Halloween blizzard of 2011, many residents were forced to leave their dorms because they lost power. In 2012, as a response to that storm, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection launched a grant program for the building of microgrids throughout the state.

Chris Dupuis, director of capital construction for Facilities, says “A microgrid is, by definition, your ability to operate electrically off of the public electrical grid.”

Because the Village, Park River and Regents Park apartments aren’t connected to the University’s generators, back in 2011, students who lived in those apartments didn’t have any backup power sources once the main power supply to campus didn’t work. At that point, students have no choice but to evacuate their dorms and find shelter elsewhere.

“It’s a life safety issue,” says Dupuis. “We have emergency lights and fire alarm systems and exit signs that require power to operate properly, and they have battery backup power that only lasts 90 minutes. So if the power’s gonna be out more than 90 minutes, we are required by law to evacuate the building.”

So, with the $2.3 million grant, the University has begun to work on a new microgrid that will ensure if there’s another storm, they’ll be able to keep the lights on. The new microgrid will connect the upperclassman dorms, Konover, and the Operations Building to the generators by East Hall, allowing every building on campus to stay online, even if the surrounding areas lose power.

Dupuis says that the project will allow the campus to serve as an emergency shelter, as it did during the storm in 2011.

“You have peace of mind that if there is a loss of power or a major disaster, you can – relatively speaking – continue life as normal on our campus and we can continue to provide all the services to our students that we can do, and we can continue to be a good neighbor to the outside community.”

Facilities says the work will continue until the winter and pick back up in the spring. The entire project is expected to be done next summer and is not expected to cause any significant traffic or parking interruptions.