UTown Water Chiller Plant Tour

Ever wonder what lies opposite of University Town (UTown) bus stop? Disguised behind shrubs and walls of vines, the power plant-like facility is rumoured to be a mini nuclear reactor residing within NUS Campus to supply electric power or for research purposes. But we’re here to debunk this myth today!


Inside UTown water chiller plant


During the brief introduction on basic indoor cooling technology, Mr Syam, an expert from Office of Facilities Management (OFM), casually pointed out that we all were, at the moment, benefitting from the new cooling system while sitting in a comfortable conference room in UTown. Most of us are familiar with the air cooling processes – warm air is sucked out, goes through filters and condenser, and then pumped into the room as cooled air. However, the system running in UTown, Mr Syam mentioned, is not quite the same as its conventional analogue we know. What makes the current cooling technology unique, he said, is the installation of water chiller plant located at the verge of UTown campus (yes, the “nuclear” plant!). It operates similar to a refrigerator, but chilled water (around 8°C) (instead of chemical coolant) is involved in the air cooling process. Since its operation, the plant has yielded a positive result on electricity usage reduction and cooling efficiency, as compared to previous systems.


Extensive mesh structure anchored to the outer wall of plant provides support for climbers

Water pipes found beside the plant. Note that the pipe in pink transports NEWater

If you are concerned about the potential increment in water consumption that follows the operation of water chiller plant, here’s the good news: NEWater is adopted as the cooling medium, and it will be reused as long as the water quality complies with the plant’s operation standard! As of now, the plant’s service is limited only to UTown area; nonetheless, Mr Syam had shared with us the target of OFM to expand this cost- and energy-effective system to the rest of NUS campus as part of their provision to create an eco-friendlier learning environment.


Group photo of experts from OFM and BES students

So, no more surmise on the nuclear plant theory, huh? At least you know where the cooled air is coming from the next time you are sitting in a UTown lecture theatre or tutorial room!


Some thoughts from water chiller plant tour participants:

Philemon (year 1):

The chiller plant tour by the NUS energy task force was very informative and gave valuable insight into the basic principles of air conditioning. The team was very approachable and quick to address our concerns so as to head toward a more sustainable future for NUS. More often than not, we take for granted this luxury of air conditioning which is why the talk and tour was a good reminder of the hard work that goes into creating our comfortable learning environment. I definitely look forward to more of these types of engagements in the future!


Apphia (year 1):

I have always wondered how buildings could be deemed sustainable despite being almost fully air-conditioned (fans are usually campaigned as the way to save the earth!!), and this was truly a good opportunity to find out.

What I gathered from the talk was that it is almost necessary to maintain a temperature that is optimal (around 24 °C) for students’ learning in this university. However, the Office of Facilities Management (OFM) is doing a good job of minimising the carbon footprint of the chiller system, as well as ensuring it has efficient energy consumption. With regards to energy consumption, the OFM is on a mission to reduce energy consumption by 20% by 2020, and have already been saving 26kWh/ year through the use of the chiller plant consolidation system instead of the usual AC. The OFM is also planning to reduce the carbon footprint of the system by linking more of the district cooling plants up throughout the campus to reduce redundancy. I guess this is why a building with air-conditioning can still be sustainable.

This event has motivated me to be more active in reducing energy consumption. Thank you Student Committee for planning this!


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