Chris Nystrom: Designing State-of-the-Art Central Utility Systems

Many of us assume that the energy we use every day for lighting, heating, cooling and countless other applications will be available as soon as we need it, for as long as we need it. There’s the occasional disruption when a storm hits, or on rare occasions when there is a failure in the power grid, but it’s only a matter of time until the lights are back on.

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For those in charge of facilities such as schools, hospitals, industrial and commercial centers, airports and hotels, however, the stakes are higher. Even a temporary interruption in the energy supply can have serious consequences, in terms of health and safety, the preservation of valuable materials, and overall cost.

Chris Nystrom understands this critical need, and has spent most of his professional career responding to it. He has extensive, firsthand experience as a power plant shift supervisor, construction manager and professional engineering consultant.

“Hospitals, universities, and major manufacturers around the U.S. are choosing to invest in or upgrade on-site central utility plants and distribution systems, to reduce the risk of an energy interruption that can materially affect operations,” he said. “These systems also increase energy efficiency and lower operational costs. This is the area I’ve focused on as an engineer, and it’s been rewarding from day one.”

Nystrom is one of a group of specialists in the planning, design, installation and commissioning of central utility plants and cogeneration systems who recently joined WSP USA’s power group, part of the firm’s industrial and energy sector.

Previously, Nystrom served as a partner and vice president of CRC Engineering (CRC), a 14-person firm based in New York City that provided design of high-temperature hot water and steam systems, chilled water and condenser water systems, underground site distribution piping and cogeneration systems, as well as energy consulting services. WSP completed the asset acquisition of CRC on Aug. 19. Nystrom and his former CRC colleagues—including partners Christopher Tso, Robert Bury and Ryan Modruson—are enthusiastic about serving existing and new clients as part of WSP.

“CRC and WSP staff have collaborated on several projects in the New York metropolitan area,” he said. “So we’re a known quantity to one another. We’re looking forward to working as part of a single organization to expand this part of the business.”

Chris Nystrom

Broad Technical Perspective

“Central utility plants with cogeneration capabilities are a cutting-edge solution to the energy-related issues a large facility faces,” Nystrom explained. “They produce electricity and thermal energy from a single fuel source, and they’re designed to meet electrical, heating and cooling loads efficiently on a 24-hour basis.”

He pointed out that this solution often costs less than purchasing electricity from the grid and generating energy separately for heating and cooling. “It’s more energy-efficient because it requires less fuel per usable energy output,” he added, “and it helps reduce the anxiety about grid vulnerabilities, especially at a time when we’re experiencing more instances of extreme weather.”

Over a career spanning more than two decades, Nystrom has worked on projects in hospitals, universities and hotels, as well as major airports and pharmaceutical centers. “It’s important to me to stay involved with a project beyond the design stage and into construction and start-up,” he said. “Not only does it help ensure quality throughout design and installation, it shows your client you’re committed to seeing that the system will perform the way they expect.”

At one New York City hospital, Nystrom served as senior project manager and lead field engineer for the replacement of the entire boiler plant, including boilers, deaerator, condensate return tanks, boiler feed water pumps, blowdown systems, fuel oil systems and associated auxiliaries. He was project manager for a multimillion-dollar underground utility infrastructure upgrade at a major university that involved replacing five miles of high-temperature hot water, chilled water, electrical and communications systems, as well as upgrading the central heating plant. He also served as project manager and lead engineer for design of a 1.7-megawatt cogeneration plant for a prominent hotel chain.

Some of Nystrom’s assignments stand out because of an especially demanding schedule or unusual project features.

“On one assignment I was responsible for an emergency fast-track redesign of the critical high-temperature hot water distribution system at an international airport, as well as field supervision of the contractor’s work,” he said. “All the work had to be completed in eight weeks to meet stringent start-up requirements.”

Another assignment at the airport involved design, specification and commissioning of an eight-cell concrete cooling tower with plume abatement coils.

“A cooling tower transfers waste heat to the atmosphere,” he explained. “The plume that rises above it looks like smoke, though it’s really water vapor that forms as the moist air is being rejected from the stack. Because it can be unsightly or, in this case, a potential obstacle to the control tower line of sight, we try to reduce or eliminate it.” This tower was the first plume-abated tower tested and certified under the Cooling Tower Institute plume abatement standard at the time.


Nystrom’s projects include design, specification and commissioning of a plume-abated cooling tower at an international airport.

Active Professional Presence

Nystrom is a licensed professional engineer in New York, and maintains additional licenses and certifications from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the state of New Jersey.

He is a graduate of the State University of New York Maritime College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in naval architecture and marine engineering with a U.S. Coast Guard third assistant engineer/unlimited tonnage license.

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