Staff Profile: Ted Borer, Energy Plant Manager

April 2, 2014

ted borer

What is your role and how long have you been at the University?

My title is Energy Plant Manager.  This is my 20th year at Princeton. I spent ten years working at Philadelphia Electric company before that.

How do you define sustainability?

Doing whatever you are doing in a way that it could go on forever - i.e., understanding the impacts of everything you do (as best as possible) and not causing a gradual depletion or degradation of whatever you are involved with.

In what ways have you integrated sustainability practices into your work environment?

The priorities in Princeton’s energy plant are as follows:

1.    Safety

2.    Compliance (with the law, permits, licenses, contracts, operating rules)

3.    Reliable delivery of service

4.    Operation at lowest life-cycle cost and least environmental impact

These priorities never change.

Almost all of the time we are already achieving the first three priorities. So most of the time we are focused on how we can reduce energy use and improve efficiency, reuse energy (i.e., use heat recovery and use energy multiple times before it is exhausted), and reduce our overall environmental impact.

We have installed and operate many new energy plant systems to recover heat and improve efficiency of energy production, delivery, and use. The cogeneration plant itself was one of the larger projects. Thermal storage and economic dispatch both help to save money and reduce our carbon footprint. Several years ago we modified the cogeneration system to recover a lot of heat that was going up the stack. The overall cogeneration process is now between 70 and 80% efficient compared to most utility plants that are between 25% and 45% efficient. Our plant was also the first in the state to test biodiesel in its stationary boilers, and we were the first in the world to demonstrate that biodiesel can fuel our particular model of gas turbine.  We are actively installing several energy improvement modifications in the plant this spring. Additionally, we are in the design phase for four changes that will be implemented over the next few years, and are in the concept and development phase for another group farther down the road. In 2012, we built the 4.5 Megawatt solar field.

Although most of today’s work relates to improving the sustainability of thermal and electric energy, we are also beginning to implement projects that reduce our total water use and reduce our chemical impact on the environment.

In what ways have you integrated sustainability practices at home?

Through my work I have gotten to see directly how financially attractive the University’s energy sustainability projects have been. Princeton saves millions of dollars every year as a result of energy-reduction strategies that also reduce our carbon footprint. About six years ago it occurred to me that I should take the same approach at home that we do here at Princeton.

First I studied my house to see where energy was being used. Then, I developed and implemented a long series of projects to reduce our life-cycle cost of energy, move more towards renewable energy, and reduce our net environmental impact. These include:

  • Making it a family priority to turn off lights, computers, and appliances when they are not in use
  • Adding air sealing and much more insulation
  • Converting from oil heat to a high-efficiency fireplace supplemented by a heat pump with digital controls
  • Converting from electric to solar hot water supplemented by a high-efficiency propane hot water heater
  • Upgrading most lamps with LED bulbs
  • Upgrading old appliances to Energy Star appliances when they break
  • Specifying 2x6 wall studs with more insulation and double pane windows instead of 2x4 studs and single pane windows when we did a home renovation
  • Buying most of our vegetables and some meat from local farmers who we know and who are very thoughtful about long-term animal, land, and soil stewardship
  • Increasing the amount of gardening we do by adding fruits, and more herbs and vegetables, as well as doing some winter gardening in a small hoop house
  • Composting kitchen and yard scraps (which we actually began doing 23 years ago)
  • Adding backyard poultry to the garden-kitchen-compost-garden cycle, which involved clarifying ordinances and a lot of public discussion in our township

We are now in a learning phase, studying how to reduce the amount of grassy lawn we maintain, adding more native plants, productive fruits and vegetables, rainwater collection, and possibly rain gardens. and we've already cut our annual energy expenses in half while paying for the system. In a few years our solar hot water and solar PV systems will be fully paid off. Then all energy from those systems for the remaining life will be “free”. Meanwhile, this year also marks my 30th year of commuting by bicycle. 

What do you think Princeton does best to advance sustainability?

We lead by example and demonstrate that, when done properly, financial and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. We then teach people about what’s possible.

How could the University become even more sustainable?

1.   Continue the energy efficiency work.

2.   Increase efforts to reduce water use and reuse water in a cascading series rather than once-through systems. Early projects the university has taken on include gray water recovery in Frick and rainwater recovery in the Arts & Transit neighborhood.

3.   Fearlessly lead a national conversation about the impact of food choices on the environment as well as community health.

 As a global leading education and research institution, it is important that we study these topics and wrestle with them in all of their complexity and then educate people (locally, nationally, and globally) so that we can have the highest level, most informed conversation possible, and then implement the best solutions.