Energy needs at Duke are met by the following four major utilities: Chilled Water, ElectricitySteam and Gas. These utilities are organized as a district heating and cooling system. Buildings at Duke are heated by steam and cooled with chilled water, both of which are generated on-campus at central plants. Electricity from the regional electric utility company provides power to the campus. The university also manages water and sewers on it Durham's university and medical-center campuses, which are connected to the city's municipal water system.

About Duke Utilities & Engineering Services (DUES)

All utilities are managed by DUES, which is housed within the Facilities Management Department. Content on this page refers to Duke's Durham campus only. DUES performs utility billing and administrative services, planning, operation, maintenance and expansion of the university's infrastructure from the point of generation to the point to of delivery (building interface).

Utility Systems


Chilled Water

From 2004 to 2012, Duke University developed the majority of a Central Chilled Water System, consisting of two central plants that provide a 42,000 ton cooling capacity and over 14 miles of distribution piping. After leaving each plant, chilled water runs to each building on campus, and then through various pipes and air handling equipment to cool the buildings. After leaving a building, the previously chilled water returns via closed loop to a chilled water plant for reuse. The system has what is known as a variable-primary arrangement, meaning that all pumping is done at the plant, requiring no additional pump equipment in campus buildings.

The centralized production and distribution of chilled water is the most efficient and economical method to cool Duke University's campus including the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and Duke Medical Center. The system provides chilled water for process-equipment cooling and building air conditioning in a reliable and cost-effective manner. Though chilled water is primarily thought of as an air-conditioning cooling source, the system operates year-round to keep up with the demands of campus buildings.


Electrical Power

Electricity enters Duke's campus through a ring of five distribution substations, which are supplied with power from Duke Energy (the university and the utility company share the same name but have no business connection). Electrical power is distributed within the bounds of campus at 15,000 Volts.

DUES' High Voltage team is responsible for the installation, operation, maintenance and distribution of high voltage electric power on campus. The group supports the university, Hospital and Medical Center to maintain the integrity of the electric system on campus, which consists of the five distribution substations, over 15 miles of duct banks and 62 miles of electrical cables. 

This group also maintains the exterior lighting systems on campus, provides electric meter reading services and maintains Duke's single traffic light. 

Building secondary lower voltage service and interior electrical systems are handled by the Building Maintenance Electrical Shop.


Steam is the main heat source for buildings on campus. Generated at two different campus plants, boilers provide high-pressure steam to both East and West Campuses and the Medical Center. Both plants serve a common distribution system to increase system reliability. Like the Chilled Water system, the Steam System operates year-round to meet campus demands.

Steam is used for space conditioning, hot-water heating, hospital medical equipment sterilization, dining services, pool heating, dishwashing and other process uses. DUES maintains and operates approximately 35 miles of steam and condensate piping and associated manholes. Additionally, DUES is responsible for steam metering stations, pressure reducing stations and condensate return systems, located within campus buildings.


West Campus Steam Plant

Duke's West Campus Steam Plant was built in 1929 as part of Horace Trumbauer's original plan for Duke's West Campus. In February 2009, the plant ended an 80-year tradition of coal delivery by rail car and began its step toward reducing Duke's use of coal. In April of 2011 the West Campus Plant burned its last load of coal and began utilizing natural gas. This fuel change was an important step in the execution of the Duke Climate Action Plan. With the renovation that enabled the fuel change, the West Campus Steam Plant received significant upgrades in auxiliary equipment, including the addition of a condensing economizer. This device allows for significant energy recovery and maximized plant efficiency.


East Campus Steam Plant

Duke's East Campus Steam Plant was built in 1929 and is located on the eastern end of Campus Drive, near Smith Warehouse. The 6,600-square-foot plant was used to heat Duke's buildings from 1929 to 1978. In May 2008 the Duke Board of Trustees approved funding to renovate the plant to add capacity to the steam system, provide for future growth and burn natural gas, which produces lower emissions and greenhouse gases than coal. Renovations were completed in August 2010. The renovated plant features 14 smaller scale natural-gas boilers, which require less water and time to produce steam and also utilize propane as a backup fuel. 

Municipal Systems

Duke's civil infrastructure consists of a vast array of water, drainage, and sewer systems, as well as paved roads, walks and parking lots, all serving the academic, research, and residential buildings and lands of Duke.


Roads, Sidewalks & Paths

Duke maintains over 18 miles of private roads and 24 miles of sidewalks, along with associated paths throughout its academic and residential areas on Duke's Durham campus.


Water, Sewer & Storm Drainage

Duke maintains approximately 34 miles of city water and sewer Lines. Duke's storm-water runoff is collected in its storm drainage system which consists of an extensive system of nearly 32 miles of storm pipes and drainage ditches. 


Storm Water Reclamation

Duke Utilities and Engineering Services is currently expanding campus storm water treatment and reclamation capabilities through the installation of an on-stream pond. In addition to improving runoff water quality, this pond will serve as the primary cooling source for the Chilled Water system and will significantly reduce potable water use on campus. When complete, this 13-acre site will include research facilities for the academic community and amenities for recreation.