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NRG Energy Center Phoenix: An Oasis in the Desert

June 21, 2017

On Tuesday, June 20, the air temperature in Phoenix reached 120 degrees.  Extreme, even for that location, the truly remarkable thing was that dozens of flights at Sky Harbor International Airport were canceled because the aircraft could simply not safely take off in that heat. This primarily affected regional jets, because those aircraft typically cannot operate above 117° due to the fact that the lower air density at that temperature cannot provide enough lift. 

The entire area was similarly sweltering, to the point that the National Weather Service used the color magenta – rarely seen – on its temperature maps to indicate that parts of Arizona were under “rare, dangerous, and very possibly deadly” heat.  At 10 pm on Tuesday, it was still at 103!

Downtown Phoenix was similarly sweltering, yet inside dozens of buildings in the city center, temperatures were cool and comfortable, because their air conditioning systems were being directly supported by chilled water from “District Energy” plants owned and operated by NRG and its subsidiary, NRG Yield.  

District Energy centers provide customers with reliability and efficiency, bringing 99.9999% reliability to the heating and cooling needs of downtown business districts from one central plant. NRG runs a total of eight systems across the US, including systems in Minneapolis and San Francisco. We also broke ground on a brand new system in Pittsburgh, PA earlier this year. 

The system is now beginning its 17th summer season providing chilled-water service to downtown businesses,  iconic buildings including Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks pro baseball team, and City of Phoenix, Phoenix Convention Center, Arizona State University, Maricopa County complex, the Sheraton Hotel, and several biomedical research facilities and high-rise condominiums and office complexes. NRG also maintains and operates a district energy/combined heat and power plant for Arizona State University, Tempe, and provides chilled water service at the ASU Polytech campus in Mesa. 

The Phoenix system was inaugurated in 2001, with 19,000 tons of installed chilling capacity, including 6,000 tons of thermal ice storage, from two plants. Today the NRG system can deliver 40,000 tons of chilled water, from three main and two auxiliary plants supporting more than 12 million square feet of building space through four+ miles of chilled-water pipelines. Improved and enhanced in stages over the last several years, the most recent upgrade to the system was installing 36,000 ton/hours of additional ice coils, which takes advantage of lower-cost power at night to generate and store ice, which is then used at the hottest time of day, when power prices are also highest. 

Despite record heat, NRG’s Phoenix District Energy customers enjoy the benefits of a central source of chilled water, efficiencies of scale and technology, and unparalleled reliability. When the real desert heat comes – and it has – hundreds of thousands of Arizonans will stay cool, courtesy of NRG.

David Gaier

Spokesman, media contact, and communications counselor for NRG's East Region and the NRG Energy Centers. The East region, which extends from Illinois to Massachusetts to Maryland, can produce almost 2...

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