Optimize the Campus Heat Distribution System

Improving efficiency and alternate energy integration...

Upgrading the Heat Distribution System is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Optimize the campus Heat Distribution System to increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness and to facilitate the integration of Cornell’s future energy sources.

Goal: Cornell currently owns and operates over 60,000 feet of underground steam, condensate, and hot water lines to provide heat to the Ithaca campus. Approximately 15% of the metered heat energy produced at the Central Energy Plant is currently lost in the distribution system. Optimizing the campus heat distribution system could potentially cut those losses by more than half, increase reliability and flexibility to accommodate alternate heat sources, and reduce the university’s GHG emissions by about 6,500 metric tons (CO2 equivalent) or about 3% of the current carbon footprint.

Infographic-Steam Line Upgrade-Reducing Thermal Loss

The campus Heat Distribution System has not been optimized for efficiency or operations, and the deferred maintenance backlog is increasing. The existing system is also not optimized for the integration of future renewable resources, such as geothermal or solar thermal energy. A planning study will evaluate the current system and provide specific and quantified recommendations for prioritizing of future improvements to optimize efficiency and alternative energy integration. The study will focus on prioritizing future capital work to reduce overall operating and maintenance costs, including energy, maintenance, and repair expenses. Optimizing the campus Heat Distribution System should reduce future energy costs, resulting in lower utility rates for customers.

Next Steps

  • Perform an in-house study to prioritize and determine near-term requirements for steam line renewal and maintenance to increase reliability and efficiency.
  • As part of the CAP 2013 Update Energy Action 4 – Earth Source Heating (ESH), study the optimum heat distribution system for a single well pair demonstration project to serve one zone of campus.


The core knowledge for this task resides within Energy & Sustainability and Facilities Engineering Departments at Cornell. Outside support will be needed to assist with the ESH study.