Campus power system gets a boost

February 15, 2022
Author: Imran Ghori
February 15, 2022

UC Riverside’s electrical system is getting an upgrade.

An electrical infrastructure project underway for over a year will provide the campus with more reliability, capacity, and safety, said Drew Hecht, director of project management for the Office of Planning, Development, and Construction.

Workers install cabling on campus as part of electrical infrastructure upgrades. (Photo courtesy John Franklin)

“This is a huge step forward for the campus – reducing power outages that we’ve historically had in the past,” he said.

For decades, the campus has relied on a single substation located in Parking Lot 30 to provide power, which is supplied through Riverside Public Utilities. A single disruption to one part of the system makes the whole campus vulnerable to an outage, Hecht said.

The upgrades are part of a series of improvements across the campus over the last year and will continue, he said. The scope will increase as financing becomes available, said John Franklin, a project manager with the Office of Planning, Development, and Construction.

The improvements include new electrical transformers; conduit and cabling to support new equipment; and replacing old electrical switches with new ones that have more wattage capacity.

The new electrical switches will give the campus more control and flexibility to reroute power so that isolated problems are less likely to cause outages, Hecht said. If one switch or electrical circuit fails, the campus can redirect power through different lines, he said. The improvements will limit disruptions to smaller, isolated areas, Hecht said.

A crucial part of the project was relocating old electrical switches in a small building in the substation just a few feet away from Route 60 – where a single accident could shut down the system. Those have been moved underground while conductor lines that went under the highway have been replaced with newer ones to increase capacity and reliability.

The replacement of old, worn cable lines will increase electrical capacity by up to 30%, Franklin said.

He compared the aged equipment to water pipes that get clogged over time and reduce water flow to a house. The new cables will allow for power to flow more easily and efficiently, he said.

“We are putting miles of cable in the ground right now,” Franklin said.

Some isolated electrical shutdowns have been required during the work, although backup generators minimize interruptions when possible, Hecht said. Planning, Design and Construction has worked with Facilities Services and the contractor to provide advance notice of shutdowns, hold informational meetings, and keep outages as short as possible, he said.

“We’re working with campus stakeholders to make sure that we schedule these shutdowns with their input in order to minimize impacts,” Hecht said.

Additional shutdowns will be coordinated with the campus as needed, he said.

In the long term, the campus hopes a connection to a second substation becomes available so that it has two independent power supplies, although that goal is still in the conceptual stage, Hecht said.