The Coolest Secret in Town
An energy solution that’s disaster-proof, efficient and environmentally friendly, plus opens businesses up to new revenue sources? Introducing Enwave ….
Anyone finding themselves at the corner of Gravier and Claiborne might observe a number of things: several parking garages, the towering belfry of St. Joseph’s church, the rush of overhead traffic and the distant conversation of students heading to class nearby.
They might not notice the entrance to EnwaveUSA Energy Corp., a massive industrial space set at the back of a winding walkway and hidden beneath a 600-car garage. Also easy to overlook is the 300-foot water well, which is completely concealed behind a small welcome sign.
And passersby certainly might not know that just steps away is the only district-energy plant in New Orleans— but Enwave is here, and it’s changing the possibilities for cooling and heating in the city.
“We are a $300 billion organization sitting in the city of New Orleans. That is not a small company, and nobody knows we’re here,” said Steve Martins, vice president and general manager of Enwave’s New Orleans plant. “You drive by, and you have no idea that you have industrial-grade equipment sitting back here or that we’re running a chilled water plant that is cooling the surrounding buildings.”
A part of New Orleans’ Downtown since 1999, the 32,000-ton facility is large enough to provide cooling and heating to six Superdomes, Martins estimates, making it one of the city’s best-kept and most powerful secrets.
If all goes according to the company’s plan, however, that will soon be changing.
BROKERS OF ENERGY
When Enwave was first established in New Orleans by parent company Brookfield, the goal was to provide reliable, efficient air-conditioning service to area hospitals. The plan to achieve this, and Brookfield’s specialty, was to use district energy, a process in which heating and cooling are delivered to a network of customers from a central plant. By exchanging a constant flow of cold and warm water in a network of underground pipes, Enwave is able to achieve and maintain exact temperatures in their customers’ buildings.
“We really are brokers of energy,” said Gordon Morrow, director of operations at Enwave, whose colleagues call him “The Professor.” “We don’t create energy; we just transform it. Our energy sources are electricity and natural gas.”
Morrow explained that Enwave’s process is not so different from what a radiator does in a home air-conditioning system, except in this case, the key player in transporting and transforming heat is water.
“The chillers in our plant transform heat: we send cold water, it moves through the customer’s building, they send back warmer water, and we transform that heat in the cooling towers on our roof,” he said. “Then it goes out into the atmosphere.”
The EnwaveUSA team is confident that their unique services put them on the forefront of the heating and cooling industry in the South.
“The process that we use is the most efficient air-conditioning process there is, outside of deep lake processors, which we don’t have here,” Morrow said. “For people in New Orleans, Houston and areas along the Gulf Coast, this is the most efficient way to cool your buildings.”
New Orleans businesses seem to agree: Although Enwave is not currently connected to any residential areas, its clients include major hospitals like LSU Health and the Louisiana Cancer Research Center, and hotels such as The Troubadour, The Roosevelt and Joie de Vivre. Most recently, EnwaveUSA completed construction on a $50 million steam plant that was specifically designed to service the University Medical Center New Orleans.
Location: 1661 Gravier St.
What: 32,000-ton energy plant capable of heating and cooling the equivalent of 6 Superdomes.
Enwave Steam Plant
Location: Gravier and S. Johnson streets
What: Three 70,000 pound- per-hour boilers located approximately 20 feet above sea level, of which one has dual fuel capabilities (natural gas/diesel) serve New Orleans’ medical district.
Clients: UMC Hospital, LSU Health Sciences, Louisiana Cancer Research Center and Tulane Medical School
Clients using Enwave heating/cooling include:
The Roosevelt, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel
The Troubadour Hotel / The Monkey Board rooftop bar
The Pythian Apartments
St. Joseph Church
Joie De Vivre Hotel
Louisiana Cancer Research Center
University Medical Center New Orleans
In order to protect the COMPANY and its customers against system failure, Enwave has enough backup power to run the plant for seven days. These generators, and the million-gallon ice tank housed at the plant, are part of a redundancy plan that allows Enwave to maintain regular operations in the event of an emergency.
ENERGY EFFICIENT COOLING
Another “big picture” goal for Enwave is to reduce the carbon footprint that its emissions leave on the environment. This is already partly achieved by using water to drive its operations, but the team takes it a step further by treating and processing this water with the company’s own reverse osmosis (RO) system.
“We pump water from our own well through our RO system,” Morrow said. “We have two phases where we pull water through the semipermeable membrane to remove the minerals and salts out of the water. On the other side, you have pure water, which we move to our cooling tower.”
Once that clean water is used to serve a customer and returns to the central plant at a warmer temperature, the water is cleaned again and recycled through a “loop system,” further reducing the company’s waste output. Even the concentrate water, which is made up of all the minerals the RO system removes, is essentially “very clean groundwater” and makes no negative impact on the environment, Morrow said.
“Enwave is bigger than just heating and cooling,” Martins said. “We really sell solutions that businesses are needing on energy issues.”
Perhaps even more impressive is Enwave’s million-gallon ice tank that ensures the company has access to cold, clean water in the event of an emergency.
“We make ice and we melt it as needed,” Martins said. “As hot as it is outside, we’re not having to run all our equipment, because we’re just melting ice that we already made outside of our peak times. We have a very energy-efficient plan here.”
BEACON IN THE STORM
For a company that services so many medical professionals, failure — or even a brief lapse in efficiency — is not an option. At Enwave, one of the team’s top priorities is maintaining N+1 redundancy, which is simply a form of resilience that protects regular operations in the event of a system failure. The ice tank is just one example of several measures the company takes to protect itself and its customers.
“We serve the only Level 1 trauma center in New Orleans, UMC,” Martins said. “This plant is designed in a way [so] that everybody works to make sure that when the doctors have a patient on the operating table, there are no problems. That’s the mindset. When they have someone on the operating table over there, they’ve got to have cooling and humidity control, and it’s all done by this facility.”
Martins said that failsafe operations were a goal from the very beginning; when construction of the plant and garage began in 1999, the building was raised 5 feet above sea level, and both the structure itself and the cooling towers on the roof were hardened in case they should be subject to an extreme storm. In addition, all critical equipment inside the plant is raised at least 20 feet above sea level, all to minimize risk.
“We said, ‘If a storm ever came, which probably won’t happen, we want to be prepared,’” Martins explained. “Well, Katrina came. Our designs and systems were put to the test and without failure, we continued to successfully operate through the storm. Obviously everybody was impacted during Katrina, except for us. We ran and operated as a beacon in the city of New Orleans, all lit up. We have 8.5 megawatts of backup generation that can run the plant for seven days off the grid. And it was designed that way because we’re serving hospitals.”
Lead operator Gregory Dequair said that for every piece of equipment, there is backup equipment. Some backups even have backups of their own, just to be safe.
“In an emergency, we don’t have time to worry about how we’re going to get our equipment back up,” Dequair said. “Our first priority should be making sure our customers have reliable service.”
To ensure this, Dequair said that their generators are routinely tested, and the plant implements dry-runs using their emergency equipment so that every member on staff is prepared to work through a storm.
“Next to electricity, water is essential for a business,” said project manager Eric Kelly. “This is all equipment to ensure our reliability.”
Martins said that the New Orleans plant’s success during Hurricane Katrina has inspired EnwaveUSA to put this team at the forefront of emergency preparedness; with additional plants in Toronto, Houston, Chicago and Seattle. The company plans to provide nationwide emergency training so that all employees are able to match the excellence demonstrated here.
“Enwave is very impressed with New Orleans, especially with the plant during Katrina,” said To-Han Watsky, lead accountant and assistant controller. “They want to make us the best in the nation. Plus, there’s a growth opportunity here with all the undeveloped buildings around us.”
Enwave once again proved its mettle earlier this year, when a freeze interrupted water and energy services across the city. Martins said that the team dedicated a lot of time to examining potential points of failure in their system, and one of those points was water pressure. However, because the company now operates its own well and processes the water through its own RO system, water pressure is no longer a factor that threatens the company’s day-to-day activity, and the district-energy plant was unaffected by the extreme temperatures.
“We were completely fine. We were not impacted at all because of the RO system,” Martins said. “Our customers didn’t even see a blip. Some didn’t even know there was an issue until they heard about it and part of the city was shut down. And that is imperative because we’re serving hospitals. We can’t go down.”
The benefits of partnering with a company like Enwave go further than just heating and cooling — because of them, several New Orleans hotels have exhanged the whirs and hums of cooling machinery for the clinking of glasses.
“After Katrina, we got a call about the Fairmont Hotel becoming The Roosevelt, A Waldorf Astoria Hotel,” Martins said. “We were told they wanted a five-star spa right where the cooling equipment was going to be. ‘What can you do?’ they asked. So we extended our distribution pipe down to The Roosevelt Hotel.”
While traditional air-conditioning systems typically require a business’s rooftop to reserve space for cooling towers and machinery, Enwave’s unique equipment takes up a fraction of the customer’s space, with a majority of the equipment housed at Enwave’s plant, allowing customers to use their rooftop and basement spaces to generate more revenue.
“If you have a rooftop that used to have all these units on the roof, you’re able to put up a pool, amenities, a tennis court…the whole nine with district cooling,” Martins said. “Once, it was just cooling towers on the roof. We transition a developer space into something that they can use as a profit center. So there’s a value proposition for that business. It’s transformational.”
Another hotel capitalizing on this unique opportunity is The Troubadour, which opened in December 2016 in the space formerly occupied by the Rault Center. The Troubadour’s rooftop is now home to The Monkey Board, a scenic bar specializing in handcrafted cocktails.
Lloyd Fruchtman, project manager for the construction of The Troubadour, said the partnership with Enwave was a “stroke of luck” for the direction of the hotel.
“We were informed that there was a district cooling system in the street, which is very rare, and it’s also a very forward-thinking sort of operation,” Fruchtman said.
Fruchtman and the rest of the building crew discovered that Enwave already had existing piping in the street directly in front of the hotel, and they were able to take advantage of lines that had been laid to service other hotels farther down the street.
“It enabled us to eliminate a lot of equipment and pick up revenue-producing space instead of mechanics, which was really good for the hotel,” Fruchtman said. “It’s much more efficient, and it doesn’t make any noise at all, whereas the machine that we would have there would make a lot of noise and would require a lot of maintenance. But the equipment that you need for district cooling is much less labor intensive, and rather than our hotel producing any emissions, the main plant handles everything.”
Moving forward, Enwave hopes to eventually expand its client base further into the city. The plant is already outfitted with space to accommodate two more chillers, but infrastructure costs make expanding the company’s pipelines a challenge. Martins said the company is hoping to coordinate with the city’s new administration to develop a plan that would work both for them and for the residents of New Orleans.
“Because we’re going to be 20 feet down in the street, we don’t want to go down there again,” Martins said. “We don’t want to rip the street out and put our pipes in, and then have the Sewerage and Water Board come and rip the street out again. We’ve got to do a better job with planning. We’ve got to work better together because we don’t want to keep ripping up the streets.”
For now, Martins and the rest of the Enwave team are keeping their focus on their core mission, planning to let their current successes guide and shape the evolving relationship between Enwave and New Orleans.
“Whether it be a hotel with an event going on, or an emergency that’s happening in one of the hospitals,” Martins said, “we focus on the big picture: making sure that we have a reliable, sustainable operation.”
7 days: Amount of time Enwave can run “off the grid” in case of a disaster
32%: New steam plant’s average reduction in NO emissions
150 mph: Speed of winds the plant is built to withstand