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80-Year-Old Solution Looks to the Future

Issue 1 and Volume 113.

By Steve Blankinship

An historic hotel in New York City is proof that looking back can provide a sound foundation for forward thinking in wise energy production and use. The 79-year-old The New Yorker Hotel is a showcase for how distributed generation, a common fixture when the power industry was in its infancy, remains a key to the future of efficient production and use of electricity.


The 600 kW combined heat and power installation provides about half of the hotel’s electricity and most of its hot water. Courtesy The New Yorker Hotel.
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The 43-story hotel near Madison Square Garden opened its doors on January 2, 1930 and was designed to be a world-class benchmark for self-sufficient heating and power. Now, it’s finally getting the credit for energy innovation it earned so many years ago, joining a club of sites, inventions and people honored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) with the Electrical Milestone Engineering Award. Established in 1983 to honor significant achievements in the history of electrical and electronics engineering, the award honors notable achievements made at least 25 years ago that involved unique solutions to an engineering problem and had at least regional impact.

The New Yorker is one of just 75 places, inventions or people to receive the award. It is also the first hotel to be so honored. The hotel’s energy infrastructure was created by Warren D. Lewis, the visionary creator of The New Yorker’s power plant. Joe Kinney, senior project engineer for the hotel, said the kind of thinking and analysis that Lewis did in 1928 would be considered state of the art today.

When it opened in 1930, The New Yorker boasted the largest private direct current generating plant in the U.S., capable of making enough electricity for a city of 35,000 people. The power plant consisted of more than 200 DC motors and was controlled from a seven-foot high, 60-foot-long switchboard. Steam engines drove electric generators while the exhaust steam provided heat to warm the hotel, hot water for the laundry and an array of other applications needing thermal energy. In addition to the purely motive function of providing power to the system, the hotel’s power plant used motorized air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting, cooking, laundering, vacuum cleaning and all collateral services requiring heat.

The hotel recently completed a $70 million renovation and refurbishment designed to recapture the style and character of The New Yorker Hotel while adding significant modernization that included installing a new four-pipe HVAC system to allow control of heating and cooling by individual guests.

Today’s energy system includes a 600 kW base-load co-generation system that provides about half the hotel’s electrical power and most of the hot water. “Analysis shows that the overall cost of the operating the cogen capacity s works out so that electrical power is equal to the cost of buying from the utility, but the thermal energy is essentially free,” says Kinney. The saving is about $400,000 a year. Because the savings is from reclaiming waste energy and burning less fuel to make hot water, a direct environmental benefit exists.

The building next door has an ice thermal storage system which allows ice to be produced at night and weekends and then used during the day to offset air conditioning load and shift peak demand. Although the system uses more power than otherwise would be used, the ability to shift off time-of-day rates from the utility results in a net energy bill savings. The central chiller plant replaces nearly 2,000 window air conditioners. Based on efficiency calculations, the centrifugal chillers and ancillary equipment should save about 40 percent of the energy costs for air conditioning. An additional 10 to 20 percent savings should be realized by centrally controlling all the room thermostats to turn set back the tem in unoccupied rooms especially during peak demand periods.

The biggest financial savings was derived by installing a boiler plant in 1998, thus reducing use of steam supplied by Consolidated Edison via an underground network. The boiler system cost about $1.5 million when installed and now saves The New Yorker about $3 million a year. “We specified dual fuel, gas/oil burners so that we could take advantage of market conditions and we contract for fuel on a Btu basis and the supplier,” says Kinney. The hotel also saves transportation charges by being an interruptible gas customer.

And because the building has five basement levels, sewage ejector pumps send waste water up to the city sewer system. A small float controlled sump pump provides a nearly constant spray of warm soapy water to the surface of the water from the restaurants, saving an additional $500 a month on chemicals.

Dr. Alexander B. Magoun, a member of the IEEE History Committee, says that The New Yorker Hotel’s power plant designers created a model of efficiency that sets an example of environmental as well as economic consideration. An example that their successors increasingly are following two and three generations later.