Energy Methods

The College uses energy to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings, to run electronic equipment, to cook meals, heat water for showers, and much more. This energy comes from electricity, heavy oil fuel, natural gas, and solar panels.

  • Many buildings on campus – especially the large ones towards the geographic center – are heated and cooled using central systems like the central heating plant and central chiller. Smaller buildings, especially those on the outskirts of campus often have independent heating and cooling systems that are a lot like normal residential boilers and air conditioners (only larger).

    The central heating plant provides steam for heat and hot water to many buildings on campus. It has the ability to burn either natural gas or heavy fuel oil, a thick liquid biproduct of gasoline refinement. Greenhouse gases and other emissions from heating the campus (and generating electricity) are much lower when a high percentage of natural gas is burned.

    Cogeneration is the use of a primary energy source to produce more than one useful form of energy. In Williams’ case, the primary energy source is heavy fuel oil or natural gas, and it is used to generate both electricity and steam that heats campus buildings. More of the primary fuel is needed to generate the combined electricity and heat, as a higher pressure of steam is necessary to drive the generator than to heat the campus. However, the combination is more efficient than generating either electricity or heat alone, as the waste heat from the electricity generation is used to heat buildings. Electricity is only cogenerated during the heating season when the plant is on.

    The central chiller uses electricity to chill water, which is then piped to buildings on the north side of campus for air conditioning during the summer months. Some of the larger buildings on campus (such as Jesup and the Science Center) have independent chillers that cool those buildings. These large central chilling systems are generally more efficient than smaller air conditioning units.

  • The college purchases electricity from the grid and also generates its own through our Central Heating Plant, which produces about 20% of the college's electricity through cogeneration.  (Read more about cogeneration above in the Fuel Oil and Natural Gas section).

    In 2018, Williams joined  with four other small liberal arts colleges to collectively purchase 25 MW of electricity annually from the Farmington Solar Project (FSP), fully a third of the facility's total output.  At the start of FY21 (Fall 2020) - the initial completion date for the FSP, the college began buying Renewable Energy Certificates, which means that our Scope 2 emissions (purchased electricity) are zero carbon.  The FSP is now scheduled to be online by September 2021.

  • Solar Thermal

    In 2018, solar thermal collectors were installed on Poker Flats coop housing in order to help heat hot water for the residents.

    You can read more about how solar thermal energy works here.