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Utilities on the Norman Campus support over 28,000 students in approximately 300 buildings on 3,000 acres. The utilities are steam, chilled water, electricity, natural gas, water, wastewater, compressed air, deionized water, and tunnel structures. Services include the following:

  • Operate and maintain equipment and distribution systems.

  • Capital project management and support of OU growth projects.

  • Monthly meter reading (approximately 750 meters) for customer usage and billing. 

  • Locating and flagging underground utilities for dig requests.

  • Ensuring compliance with Local, state, and federal regulatory requirements. 

A snapshot of each commodity and the lifecycle is below. For detailed information about each commodity, click the specific commodity under the Mission Statement.

Mission Statement:

“The Utilities Services under the University of Oklahoma Facilities Management, strive to maintain, improve, and provide safe, reliable, efficient, and sustainable utilities through effective energy conservation and innovation. A team traditioned in camaraderie and united in dedication to providing an atmosphere conducive to holding with the praxis of teaching and research for the students and staff, and to the entire Norman campus.”

Tunnels at Utility Plant 4

OU owns, operates, and distributes all the utilities through what is known as District Energy here on the Norman Campus. This is accomplished by a network of underground tunnels which connect most buildings.

The tunnels total approximately 7-miles, with some tunnels dating back to 1948. It is through these tunnels that many of the Main Campus utilities are routed through. Utilities on the North Campus and South Research Campus are all direct buried utilities. 

Through tracking of the utilities usage by customers and tenants associated with the District Energy, a monthly rate for utilities is established based on expenditure of system maintenance and upkeep, along with production and distribution costs. This allows the University to ensure reliability and sustainability of its immense utility infrastructure. 

What is District Energy?

District energy refers to a system where heating and/or cooling, in the form of hot water (or steam) and chilled water, is produced at a central facility and distributed to external customers through a distribution piping system.  A district energy system replaces the need for each building to have its own boiler and chiller system.​

District energy systems have a long history and are utilized worldwide.  System sizes range from several megawatts to service industrial or institutional complexes, such as universities or hospitals, to many hundreds of megawatts designed to service entire cities

Utility Plant 4 Circulation Pumps

Advantages of District Energy


District energy (DE) systems have a high degree of reliability, as they are built to high quality standards, are under constant professional monitoring and have built in redundancy. Major individual building mechanical equipment is eliminated, reducing the risk of breakdown and emergency repairs in individual buildings.  


By eliminating boilers, chillers and associated high pressure and temperature equipment, chemicals and fuels, individuals' buildings reduce their operations and maintenance costs, and at the same time increase the building operating safety.


Because there are no boilers or chillers in the individual customer buildings, systems and controls can operate as per design intent all year round and not run inefficiently during Spring and Fall shoulder periods (this is typically caused by the building boilers and chillers having a minimum operating level that is higher than the building need during the shoulder periods).

      Property Enhancement

Space savings in individuals' buildings resulting from the displacement of individual heating / cooling systems within the building.​ Also there is a reduction in noise and vibration.

OU produces and distributes chilled water at 40°F, to buildings on the Main and South/Research Campuses. Four chilled water plants dating from 1946 to 2012 provide 25,000 tons of nominal capacity, which is the equivalent to supplying cooling for about 10,500 Oklahoma homes. 

The chilled water labyrinths through 15+ miles of chilled water piping, measuring up to 30 inches in diameter. Almost all piping associated with chilled water is located inside the tunnel system. 

In 2018, peak demand for Main and South/Research Campus was 15,400 tons. With such a large system, chilled water accounts for approximately 30% of the O&M cost. The operations of this system in through four chilled water plants. Let’s take a look at each.

Chilled Water Plant 1

Chilled Water Plant 1 (CWP1) has 6,500 nominal tons of chilled water capacity. This is the oldest of the chilled water plants, however due to its location inside the physical plant compound, it is the heartbeat of the Main Campus chilled water flow. The plant has three total chillers. Two are electric chillers.  One of which is OU’s newest chiller, installed here in 2020. It is a 2500-ton York Chiller. The older electrical chiller is a 2000-ton York chiller, and is schedule for new tube bundle installation in 2022. This facility also houses the only remaining steam-driven chiller (2000 ton) on campus. The plant utilizes a 2-cell concrete cooling tower cross connected with a 4-cell concrete cooling tower within the compound as a heat sink for the chillers.  

Chilled Water Plant 2

Chilled Water Plant 2 (CWP2) is unique in that it is only used as a supplement to UP4 from May through September. It has a nominal capacity of 5,000 tons, though due to age and system restrictions, the plant support the district energy with 3000 operational tons of cooling. CWP2 has three electric chillers. Two 2000-ton and one 1000-ton chiller. Another unique feature of CWP2 is that is it underground with the cooling towers built on the roof of the plant, and yet eye level, so not to obstruct buildings and view. The towers are made up of a 2-cell and a 3-cell cooling tower. The towers were refurbished in 2020. Currently the 1000-ton chiller is scheduled for replacement in 2028.

Chilled Water Plant 3 Cooling Towers

Chilled Water Plant 3 (CWP3) is also often referred to as the South Campus Cooling Plant. The plant specifically cools the research building and National Weather Center on south campus. It is a large plant with 5 chillers and a cooling capacity of 6,500 tons. All the chillers are electric and range from 2000 tons down to 250 ton units. The plant utilizes two external cooling towers as a heat sink. The distribution associated with this plant is all direct buried piping and is not connected to the main campus loop. The plant also containers a NWC independent SCADA system and associated Diesel Generator to ensure power and cooling to critical equipment. The system controls were updated in spring of 2021 and proved beneficial in the 2021 Uri Spring Storm.

Utility Plant 4 (UP4), is the main campus base plant and newest plant, having been commissioned in 2012., This plant operates year-round, 24/7, 365 days a year. With 10,000 nominal tons of chilled water capacity, the plant can handle majority of the current university load on main campus.  The plant has four 2,500 ton electric York chillers and utilizes a 5-cell cooling tower adjoined to the east side of the plant. The Utility plant has additional built-in growth for adding chillers if needed in the future. 

OU produces and distributes 4 psi and 90 psi steam to buildings on the Main Campus. The steam is distributed out to the campus via 10+ miles of steam pipe up to 22 in diameter. Once the heat from the steam is transferred to the building, the condensate is returned through 7 miles of piping up to 8 inches in diameter. This allows the heating system to be a closed loop system, increase efficiency, minimizing losses and cost of water usage for makeup.  

In 2018, peak demand was 149,800 pounds per hour at OU Norman. As such OU has delivered over 554,000,000 pounds of steam throughout campus annually. This is equal to the amount of natural gas consumed by 9,500 Oklahoma households each year. The complexity of this system results in steam production accounting for approximately 40% of the O&M cost for the Utilities Department. Let’s take a look at our two steam production plants. 

The Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHPP) was originally commissioned in 1940’s and was overhauled in the 1960’s. The plant contains four natural gas, high pressure boilers, operating at 400psig. Boiler 4 was decommissioned in the early 2000’s due to structural integrity. The three remaining boilers have a nominal capacity of 240,000 lbm/hr steam production, however with velocity restrictions due to piping age and corrosion, the plant has an operational limit of 140,000 lbm/hr. Currently, the plant also maintains three operational steam-driven electric generators. Due to age and efficiency, CHPP supplements UP4 during shoulder months, being online from October through April. Boiler 1, the largest boiler on campus, is scheduled for a complete controls upgrade in fall of 2021. This project is part of a two-phase approach to replace the outdated control system at the plant and ensuring heating steam reliability into the future. 

Utility Plant 4

Utility Plant 4 (UP4) was commissioned in 2012, and houses two natural gas-fired turbine generators. Each generator is also integrated with a HRSG (Heat Recovery Steam Generator). These two units are the year-round main provider of heating steam for the University Campus. UP4 also has a package boiler, which can be used to supplement steam production if necessary for peak loading or during CTG downtime. The plant can produce 220,000 pounds per hour steam production capacity and 15 MW electrical generation capacity.   

Oaktree Substation Transformer

OU operates and maintains the electrical distribution system and street/pedestrian lights for all Norman campus. The University currently owns and operates two substations where power is imported from OG&E and then distributed throughout the campus through 4160V up to 138KV distribution line. The distribution system is comprised of three main power distribution centers, over 350 transformers, 1050+ street lights, and over 47 circuit miles of underground primary distribution line. Additionally, OU maintains 480V up to 12.5KV electric in the chiller plants and steam plants. In 2018, OU purchased 123,893 MWh and generated 61,764 MWh. This is equal to the amount of electricity consumed by 13,000 Oklahoma households annually. The electrical systems accounts for approximately 20% of the O&M cost. 

Domestic Water Pipe

The natural gas distribution system originates at the first shutoff valve after the master meter stations that are located throughout the campuses and terminates at the exterior walls of the campus buildings served by this system. The termination point is typically after the outdoor pressure and/or metering station located at the respective campus buildings. There are eleven master meters at the demark points as well as direct supply from the Oklahoma Natural Gas system. The system operating pressure is 45psig for main campus and 15psig for north campus. There are over 13 miles of natural gas service line thought the Norman Campus. 

The potable water distribution system consists of approximately 57 miles of potable water mains and service connections to the facilities, ranging in diameter up to 16 inches. The water is supplied by the City of Norman to thirteen master water meter stations at pressures up to 70 psig. The distribution system on Main Campus includes direct buried and utility tunnel piping. While North and South/Research Campuses are all direct buried. 

OU has two separate wastewater systems, Main/South Campus and North Campus. Both systems consist of piping up to 12” along with numerous manholes, lift stations and eight sub-basins each containing discharge to the City of Norman’s sewer system 

In total the three system, Natural gas, Potable Water and Wastewater, combined for approximately 10% of the O&M cost.  

Utility Plant 4 Control Room

The University utilizes a collection of sub-meters located on the electrical, chilled water, steam, gas and potable water systems at the building level, to calculate usage, consumption, and for billing purposes. OU maintains and reads 750 meters across the Norman Campus. In 2012 a Smart Electrical Meter system was partially installed on the campus electrical distribution for calculation of energy costs, monitor building loads/demand, and monitor power factor. Then in 2017, OU began networking all chilled water and steam meters into a web-based dashboard to provide campus visibility, improve their internal billing process and increase building efficiencies. In fall of 2021, OU will be performing a two phase integration project for a state of the art remote meter monitoring system. Initial wave will be for electric meters, followed by natural gas and domestic water meters.

A variety of control technologies and networks are utilized across the utility plants. Wonderware and Allen Bradley PLC’s are used in UP4 and CWP1 facility. The new boiler upgrade in CHPP will be in Wonderware also. WebControl and Niagara are the primary automation systems for CWP2, CWP3 and building automations. 

Utilities Leadership

Jeremy Debaets
Director, Utility System

Ryan Bracamonte
Manager, Plant Maintenance

Justin Tripp
Assistant Director

Tom Hughes
Manager, Utility Distribution

Rex Brown
Manager, Plant Operations