Northwind Coolant Plant Tour (Downtown Phoenix)

We (Arco Const Team) went down to Phoenix to see a coolant plant that uses off peak electrical power to cool water to make ice during the evenings when the electricity is cheap that is then used to cool buildings during the day.

This project is a great example of District Power. District power works best in dense environments where a bunch of buildings are located within close proximity to each.

Current power systems if they were located closer to populated area would save a lot of energy by making use of district power.

The plant we toured is one of several in the downtown PHX area run by Arizona Public Service’s (APS) District Power subsidiary Northwind. The system was first developed in 2001 and has since then underwent rapid expansion. They have about 30 accounts that use the cool water to cool their buildings. Several large pipelines form a loop around the downtown to transport cool water to clients.

From EPA Profile Page about Northwind Phoenix:

Northwind Phoenix builds, owns, operates, and maintains campus and district energy systems, including combined heat and power facilities. Northwind provides the energy produced by these plants in the form of electricity, chilled water, and heat to its end-use customers, such as office buildings, universities, research facilities, and municipal buildings. The energy is typically transported over thermal and electrical distribution systems constructed, operated, and maintained by Northwind. From chilled water loops and thermal energy storage to electrical and steam distribution systems, Northwind Phoenix is the largest turn-key operator of district energy systems in Arizona.

From the APS/Northwind webpage is a nice short definition of District Power:

District energy, is an innovative centralized cooling and heating system that utilizes an extensive underground network of pipes to efficiently deliver hot and cold water, steam, or electricity from a central plant. This central plant is capable of servicing an entire campus or individual buildings, parceled areas, downtown locations and individual locations where there are concentrated energy requirements.


The key in understanding district power is to see it is particularly relevant in high density built environments.

  1. District power can enable cost savings through the efficient use of Combined Heating and Power (co-generation) and even tri-generation systems (Combined Heating, Cooling and Power) because they produce power very close to the point of consumption and thus district heating and cooling becomes a viable way to heat and cool buildings in the “district” surrounding the power production facility.
  2. Finally transmission lines lose a significant amount of power both through leakage and resistance (I have heard numbers in the range of 10-25%).

Thus we have a practical rationale for the development of an Arcology that makes use of such technologies.

According to the APS website the benefits to businesses and real estate companies are:

  • Eliminates up-front capital expenditures
  • Creates attractive life cycle economics
  • Facilitates budget predictability
  • Reduces risk exposure
  • Reduces structural design requirements in new buildings
  • Eliminates and/or reduces electrical distribution for cooling
  • Increases space availability in building
  • Increases flexibility to add future cooling capacity
  • Eliminates costly maintenance and capital replacement expenses
  • Reduces average cost for kWh
  • Allows client to focus on core business
  • Provides 24/7 expert service
  • Strengthened energy infrastructure
  • Reduced emissions and pollution

Below are some pictures of the field trip:

Additions Related Articles and Resources:

  1. District Power Magazine Article about Northwind Phoenix:
  2. Wikipedia Definition of District Power which is also known and Distributed Power:
  3. Biz AZ Article about how the plant cools the water for the ballgames and more…
  4. Accolodes on APS’s work “Northwind(TM) Phoenix Garners Top Award from International District Energy” Association:
  5. A bit more of a techical explanation of the plant’s “INSTRUMENTATION & CONTROL systems”:


Construction Volunteer Handan Celibi Working at Arcosanti

Arcosanti to Serve as Set for Indie Film in March

My good friend Gregor Knauer works at Cosanti doing landscaping. He lived at Arcosanti several times during the 80s (then in his youth a notorious partier) and also including the year 2000 when I was first here as a resident (later in life he became the “anti-partier” railing against smoking and noise excesses at Arcosanti). An avid runner who has been in several marathons, he helped organized the 5k run at Arcosanti in 2002.

Recently he brought an old friend – Tom Huckabee (A 2007 Fort Worth Business Press ((Film fest signals a homecoming for Huckabee)) article provides some background on his work) – from his college days at U of Texas/Austin to scope the site for use in the filming of their planned indie film. Tom is writing and producing the film, while his associate James Johnston (see his website (who we also met) is the director. Both are originally from the Fort Worth area.

The film is called Carried Away and it is a about dysfunctional family and the chaos that results when one of them decides to kidnap his grandmother and take her across the country including Arcosanti where his ex girlfriend is living now.

Here are some clips of the scenes they have shot so far on YouTube.

Filming will take about a week at Arcosanti and will take place in the first and second weeks of March. It will involve about 10-15 crew and actors, as well as extras from the Arcosanti community. They are planning on a major scene that will involve a huge party with kegs and a western theme (often parties at Arcosanti involve themes to make them more interesting) including the importing of a C&W band from Texas. Arcosanti residents will serve as extras in the scene and will actually be partying real time, while actors will have to pretend (James says from experience that it is best that actors do not actually drink while acting because some actors can handle the alcohol but others cannot).

Documentary about Biophillic Design Features Arcosanti

Bill Finnegan came by and took some footage of Arcosanti for his documentary about Biophilic Design. Finnegan has a production company called Tamarack Media.

Biophilic Design is a term coined by the neo-Darwinian ecologist E O Wilson who has sought to demonstrate the links that humans have with their environment and consider design processes that reinforce more conscious living through Biophilic Design.

Biophilic Design is quite similar to Ecological Design concept developed by Sim Van Der Ryn and also the Biomimicry concept developed by Janine Beynus, but with a focus on how buildings call actually promote more thoughtful interactions with nature.

The documentary is a companion to the book published by Wiley and editted by Stephen R. Kellert, Judith Heerwagen and Martin Mador titled Biophilic Design : The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life.

From the blog post about Biophilic Design:

Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life is an incredible new resource from Wiley to advance the art and science of this emerging design practice in architecture. As the book states, “Biophilic design is a new approach to sustainable development that incorporates the positive experience of nature into the design of the built environment.”

Chapter 2: The Nature of Human Nature (Edward O. Wilson)Chapter 3: A Good Place to Settle: Biomimicry, Biophilia, and the Return of Nature’s Inspiration to Architecture (Janine Benyus)

Chapter 12: The Extinction of Natural Experience in the Built Environment (Robert Pyle and David Orr)

Chapter 13: Biophilia and Sensory Aesthetics (Judith Heerwagen and Bert Gregory)

Chapter 17: Towards Biophilic Cities: Strategies for Integrating Nature into Urban Design (Tim Beatley)

Chapter 19: The Greening of the Brain (Pliny Fisk)

Chapter 22: Transforming Building Practices through Biophilic Design (Jenifer Seal Cramer and William Browning)

Chapter 23: Reflections on Implementing Biophilic Design (Robert Fox and Robert Berkebile)

Related Articles and Research: