UCSB has recently completed a massive $22 million upgrade of the campus’ electrical infrastructure.
Prior to the overhaul, UCSB was utilizing an antiquated electrical system installed on campus in 1966. At more than 40 years old, the system had grown incapable of supplying UCSB facilities housing high-tech laboratories — such as the California Nanosystems Institute and the Engineering buildings — with adequate power. Over the past eight years, David McHale, Associate Director for Utility and Energy Services, designed and built a modern electrical system for UCSB that should work for decades.
In a press release, McHale said the old system was routinely unable to meet the university’s demands.
“We were having numerous power failures,” McHale said. “Failures were increasing every year because of the age of the system. So we knew we had to replace it.”
In a later phone conversation, McHale elaborated on the power failures, saying that UCSB had been experiencing electrical failures about four times per year. During such instances, he said, as much as 80 percent of the campus was without power for several hours.
For the campuswide electrical overhaul, electricians were required to remove all vestiges of wiring and transformers from the ’60s era system. These old designs were replaced with 135,000 circuit feet of cables, 90,000 feet of conduit and two substation transformers. Also, 75,000 feet of fiber optic cable were added to assist UCSB Campus Design and Facilities engineers in monitoring the system.
McHale described the overhaul process as daunting, given that the university needed the ability to continue functioning during renovation. To compensate, McHale set up generators to supply individual campus buildings while the new system was being installed.
“It was an arduous process of looking at how everything is connected,” McHale said. “You [had to] start at the last point and work back in. We would usually set up a generator outside the building while the work was taking place. If the building took a week to convert, it would have an outage only in between turning off the system and setting up the system.”
The UCSB campus demands roughly 15 megawatts of electricity to operate. According to McHale, UCSB’s electricity consumption is equal to about 35 percent of the entire city of Santa Barbara’s power demands. As much as 65 percent of UCSB’s overall electricity is consumed by only 10 buildings that house most of the campus’ laboratories.
Electricity is currently supplied to UCSB by Southern California Edison, which maintains transmission lines that traverse the Santa Ynez Mountains. While some UC campuses such as Los Angeles and San Diego maintain their own cogeneration plants — or in-house power plants — UCSB depends on electricity from outside sources. This system generally works well for UCSB, McHale said, but it has caused trouble in the past. A recent campus power outage this summer was a result of the Gap Fire, which disrupted Edison transmission lines and blacked out the school.