Keeping the Lights on at the University of Virginia

Imagine you're leading a potentially groundbreaking medical research project and nearing the end of a multi-hour culture observation taking place in an ultra-controlled environment. All of a sudden, the power flickers and every piece of research equipment and electrical hardware reboots. In the amount of time it takes to reset, the culture's environmental stasis has changed—rendering the results inconclusive.

Though not officially considered a power outage (defined as two or more minutes of no power), blips like these are powerful enough to reset equipment in countless research labs throughout the University of Virginia (UVA). While these blips are more frequent during severe weather situations such as ice storms and heavy downpours, they can also be caused by nothing more than a stray branch brushing an overhead power line.

Preserving Iconic Campus Elements

The university already distributes 15kv of underground electric service to all the academic, research, and medical center buildings, but it's now partnering with the local utility company to underground 35kv of overhead electric service between three substations, two of which exist on-campus.

This project is a massive undertaking. Moving these systems underground has the potential to alter important and unique university features. As a result, selecting the right route for the future ductbank is critical. To identify the preferred path, UVA evaluated an extensive list of transportation, construction, environmental, cultural resources, and land use impacts for the nearly 40 routes being considered.


It's All in the Numbers

We're helping UVA identify and evaluate these routes against more than 100 unique criteria to determine which alignment would best support the new underground ductbank. Two of the three substations are located on opposite sides of a major railroad, while some cut through woodlands, wetlands, historic lawns, future building sites, bike lanes, bus paths, and pedestrian crossings. Some routes cross sewer, electric, and water lines or are constrained by large walk-through steam tunnels.

Our team is quantifying more than 110 unique factors relating to constructability, environmental impacts, transportation, and land use. Once the raw numbers are analyzed and weighted, UVA will be armed with the evidence necessary to make an informed decision that suits stakeholders and meets the project's requirements.


Consistency is Key

This underground ductbank is the biggest energy infrastructure project I've ever been a part of at the university level. It's my hope that these improvements (facilitated by a well-thought-out route considerate of surrounding resources) will enhance UVA's ability to attract world-class researchers, bring peace of mind to on-campus medical professionals and patients, and provide more resilience during severe weather situations.