Geothermal energy is the future of how we heat and cool out buildings

Commercial HVAC Geothermal Projects in 2013

Feb. 11, 2014
Throughout 2013, HVAC projects involving geothermal energy systems sprang up all across the U.S. 

Oklahoma Aquarium to Install Geothermal Heat Pump

The city of Jenks, OK first geothermal project in a portion of the Oklahoma Aquarium is expected to greatly reduce the facility's demand for energy. The U.S. Department of Energy is providing a grant (administered by the Department of Commerce) for $92,000. It requires an $18,400 match. The ground-source heat pump (GHP) will be used in the aquarium's 10,000-square-foot quarantine and research building, where animals such as sea turtles stay behind the scenes until their exhibit space is complete.

The goal is for GHPs to heat and cool the entire 80,000-square-foot aquarium facility. The city estimates 40 to 50% electric and natural gas savings at the quarantine building, where energy costs run about $75,000 a year. And the geothermal system is also expected to produce less wear and tear on the air unit. Read about it on the Tulsa World website.

Geothermal at Michigan Prison

The Kent County Correctional Facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan, spent $1 million from the Energy Department‘s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program to install an energy-efficient 96-well geothermal heating and cooling system. The county is saving an average $100,000 per year from the system, resulting in a 10-year payback. The system has 2,400 MBH (thousands of Btu/hour) of cooling capacity and 2,270 MBH of heating capacity – roughly the amount needed to heat and cool 45 energy-efficient homes. Read the Energy Manager Today article for more information.

Walgreens Uses Geo at Net Zero Store

Using a combination of onsite renewable energy production and energy efficient building materials and lighting, Walgreens is building what could be the nation’s first net zero retail store as a testing ground for incorporating such features into their other 8,000 stores nationwide.

Located in Evanston, IL, the store will use geothermal heat pumps, 800 solar panels and two wind turbines to provide its renewable power and heating needs. With company headquarters in nearby Deerfield, the store will give engineers a convenient opportunity to measure the building’s energy performance and evaluate how well it achieves net zero goals. Energy Manager Today covered this story as well.

UM Farmington $1.55 Million GHP Project

The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) will be installing 80 geothermal boreholes, its largest geothermal project yet, as part of an ongoing effort to make campus energy more efficient and continue progress toward its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2035. The University of Maine board of trustees approved spending up to $1.55 million for the project, which will be completed within the year.

The geothermal boreholes will pay for the $1.55 million cost in energy savings in eight to 10 years, and will save about 28,000 gallons of oil per year. The system would reduce carbon emissions by about 354 tons annually compared with oil, which is about the same amount of emissions 67 passenger cars produce in a year. The campus committed to the Climate Action Plan in 2010 with the goal of eliminating its greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and reducing its output by 20 percent by 2015. The plan calls for UMF to expand its use of renewable energy resources, mostly through geothermal systems. Details an be found on the Portland Press Herald website.

Geothermal Saves Energy at Three Sylvania Schools

Geothermal heating and cooling systems installed in Sylvania’s three new elementary schools should pay for themselves in energy savings sooner than previously expected, a school district spokes-man said.

“We are showing that our return will be sooner than anticipated for the first two schools,” said Nancy Crandell, the school system’s communications director, referring to Hill View and Maplewood schools, which were completed in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

How soon the earlier return will be realized is not yet known. It is also too soon to know how quickly a similar system in the new Central Trail Elementary on Mitchaw Road, which opened in January to replace an 80-year-old building on Central Avenue, will pay for itself, Crandell said. The mechanical contract cost was $1,959,000.

Geothermal power is being touted as a sustainable system that pollutes less and consumes less energy than traditional heating and cooling methods. Although its upfront cost exceeds that of traditional systems, its lower operating cost typically recovers that expense within 10 years, and Ms. Crandell said that for Hill View and Maplewood—which also replaced older buildings—that return now is forecast to be much sooner.

Sylvania-based JDRM engineered the design for all three buildings. According to their founder, Steve Morris, geothermal heat is becoming popular with area schools. In the last 10 years, JDRM has designed about 16 geothermal heating systems in area schools.

Navy Base Digs Deep to Cut Energy Costs

Navy contractors are drilling for heat. Though the ground doesn't warm up the closer you get to the bottom of 350-foot-deep holes, 48 of them will provide enough energy to keep a 264-room dormitory cozy.

Construction started at the end of April on a $2.6 million geothermal heat pump (GHP) system for Naval Base Kitsap's Bachelor Enlisted Quarters Building 1044 in Bremerton, WA. It's part of a $13.8 million project that includes another geothermal system and renovations to 168-room Building 1001. The new Building 1044 system will save the Navy $266,000 per year in energy costs and pay for itself in 9 to 10 years, said Paul Songe-Moller, energy manager with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest.

A sonic drill rig — a type used for digging water wells — is rotating and punching 6-inch diameter boreholes. One-inch plastic pipe will be run to the bottom of each hole, whip a U-turn, return to the top and continue to the next hole. Water and antifreeze will circulate through the 35,000 feet of pipe.

The ground, whether four feet down or 350, is about 55 degrees. Check your basement and that's probably the temperature there, said Mark Bennett, NAVFAC engineering manager who helped design the project. During winter, the ground will keep the liquid in the pipes warmer than the outside air, and it will be used to warm the inside air. In the summer, it will be colder than the outside air, and be used to cool the buildings.

GHP System Celebrated at Community Music School

The Massachusetts Renewable Thermal Coalition spearheaded a ribbon cutting at the Community Music School of Springfield to promote awareness of the new green energy heating and cooling system at its historic building in Massachusetts. The innovative new system taps geothermal and solar thermal resources to realize significant energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction.

The ceremony featured Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) Commissioner Mark Sylvia, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center Director of Market Development Galen Nelson, Western Massachusetts Electric Vice President Robert S. Coates Jr., and Columbia Gas Director of Energy Efficiency Elizabeth Cellucci.

In September 2012, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan announced that the Community Music School had received $124,000 in grant funding from ReBuild Western Massachusetts and low-income solar thermal programs. The ReBuild Western Massachusetts program was formed by the Patrick-Murray Administration to help communities rebuild after the June 1, 2011 tornado, by providing grants and no-interest loans so that businesses, nonprofits and residents could integrate energy efficiency practices and renewable energy technologies.

According to project officials, it provides an excellent case study of the application and use of renewable thermal energy systems that apply heat recovery, solar thermal and geothermal heat pump technologies in a historic building. Best of all, the systems reduce emissions and energy use, while pro-viding significant energy cost savings to the Community Music School. (GEO)

Indiana OKs $30 Million for Ball State Geo Project

Ball State University’s stalemated geothermal project in Muncie, IN has been approved to receive $30 million despite generally dwindling state funding for higher education. Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler said approving the state budget was an easy decision for the Indiana lawmakers because of what the project means for the state.

The General Assembly saw the worth of this geothermal project for Ball State and the recognition that Indiana will gain for being on the cutting edge of this technology,” he said. “State monetary support will greatly speed up progress on the project.”

The state will fund the project in cash, which means the project will only need to go through a couple of approval steps before starting. The last part of the project ended after funding ran out before all 1,800 boreholes were drilled. Drilling the remaining boreholes is one of several priorities in completing the system. Read more about it on the Indiana House Democrats website.

Golden Gate Hits Rock Bottom

Greg Stevens saw opportunity 475 feet below the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino. That’s where the engineer and co-owner of the 107-year-old Fremont property decided to draw the heating and cooling power needed to keep beer and slush drinks cold at the casino bar. Beneath the building is the home of a closed-loop geothermal system.

“We use the huge chunk of rock below us,” said Stevens, who works with his brother Derek Stevens, the hotel operator. Installed in 2009, the geothermal system uses 10 boreholes. Tubing runs vertically through the wells and connects to a geothermal heat pump. The system harnesses enough energy to heat the showers of 106 hotel rooms and cools drinks when outdoor temperatures hover well above 100 degrees. Check out the case study on the Vegas Inc. website.

Geothermal is IKEA’s Next Big “Push”

IKEA, the world's biggest furniture seller, completed its first U.S. solar project in October 2010 at its Tempe, AZ store. Since then, it has followed a path to install solar at as many locations as possible, as part of its goals to reduce its carbon footprint and energy costs.

The company now has solar on 39 of its 44 U.S. facilities, totaling up to close to 38 megawatts of generation. With most of its U.S. locations fitted out with solar panels, IKEA has its eye on geothermal energy. Its 413,000 sq.-ft. Centennial, CO store is the first and only IKEA location in the United States to run on geothermal energy for heating and cooling.

Along with solar panels, geothermal heat pumps have allowed it to operate without utility natural gas. IKEA already operates close to 50 geothermal projects around the world, and hopes to expand that presence in the United States. has more information on this.

Let's Eat at McGeo's!

The owner of a new 4,000-sq-foot McDonald’s restaurant in Garfield Heights, OH was so intent on making the building super energy efficient that he even invested his own money to do so. The building features geothermal heating and cooling, LED light fixtures and 341 solar panels on canopies in the parking lot. Ten geothermal boreholes are located under the pavement of the restaurant’s drive-through to heat and cool the building—and to chill the icemaker, freezers and refrigerators. You can find more information on this at the CoGEHPA / website.

Stillwater Schools to Install GHPs

When Stillwater Public Schools started planning the construction of two elementary schools, officials used it as an opportunity to make them more than four walls and a roof. Their goal was to create the most efficient and student-friendly environment possible. One of the major changes coming to the old Will Rogers Elementary School and Highland Park Elementary School is geothermal systems to heat and cool.

Each new school has 120 wells connected to tubing that goes nearly 400 feet into the ground where the temperature remains constant. This helps keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer. "It's a much more efficient way of heating and cooling," Assistant Superintendent James Ryan said. Read the story at – Channel 9.

Geo System Online at Colorado Capitol

The Denver Post reports that a new geothermal heating and cooling system at the Colorado state Capitol, consisting of water pumped from two wells drilled into the Arapahoe Aquifer more than 850 feet underground, is being brought on line and should bring hefty savings on utility bills for the Capitol, officials said Wednesday. The water from the aquifer is a consistent 65 degrees. The open-loop geothermal system will save an estimated $100,000 in heating and cooling costs in the first year. The savings should escalate each following year by 3 percent.

Gov. John Hickenlooper said the project will make the Colorado Capitol "the first LEED-certified capitol building in the country."

Big Geothermal System Gets Bigger at Ball State

At Ball State University in Muncie, IN, the nation’s biggest ground-source, closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system now is about to get bigger. When completed in 2015, it will save $2 million a year while halving the university’s carbon footprint.

The first phase of the project saw 1,800 boreholes drilled around campus, each 4 to 5 inches in diameter and 400 to 500 feet deep. These holes were topped with parking lots and recreational fields. One thousand miles of piping circulates water in a closed loop system, and facilitates the heat transfer between the ground and the buildings. The second phase is now under way, and will double the number of boreholes.

A $30-million appropriation by the state legislature will pay for that work and modifications to accommodate new chillers, hot and chilled water distribution looping and modifications of the remaining buildings to accept the geothermal connections, according to this report on the Earth Techling website.

Planning State’s Largest Geothermal System for Kansas Store

IKEA—the world’s leading home furnishings retailer—announced plans to incorporate geothermal technology into the heating and cooling system of its future Kansas City-area store under construction in Merriam, KS. Related drilling and underground work will be complete by winter. It is the largest commercial geothermal project in Kansas or Missouri, and should be operational when IKEA Merriam opens in the fall of 2014.

It will be the second U.S. IKEA store tapping geothermal energy in the earth. Denver, CO-area IKEA Centennial opened with geothermal heat pumps in 2011.

The closed-loop ground-source heat pump system involves drilling 180 boreholes—six inches in diameter and 600 feet deep—into the earth across part of the 19-acre IKEA lot. Pipes placed into these boreholes will form an underground network of loops for circulating 36,000 gallons of heat-transferring liquid (a water-based antifreeze solution) connected to 64 forced-air heat pumps to cool and heat the store. This system also includes five heat pumps to provide potable hot water needed for the store’s lavatory and restaurant operations. For more information, go to

Miami University Geo Will Displace Coal and Save Energy

Burning coal to generate heat at Miami University will soon become a thing of the past, with the construction of a $23 million geothermal system that will save the university approximately $1 million annually in operating and maintenance costs. A geothermal facility is under construction on the university's Western Campus, along with three new residence halls and a dining hall that will be heated and cooled with geothermal energy. Forty percent of the campus is going to go geothermal by 2025. Geothermal systems are also being considered for the regional Miami campuses in Middletown and Hamilton. The Dayton Daily News has more on this.

Geothermal to Heat and Cool Nebraska Innovation Campus

Construction will begin this month on a $12 million joint project between Lincoln, NB and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to heat and cool Nebraska Innovation Campus with water. The Central Renewable Energy System will use non-drinkable water from the Theresa Street Wastewater Treatment Plant to heat and cool facilities and then release it into Salt Creek. Olsson Associates, the engineering firm designing and installing the equipment, will use a system similar to a geothermal heat pump system, which uses the Earth’s temperatures to moderate heating and cooling for residential and commercial buildings. The system, which will be installed in individual buildings, will be capable of heating and cooling structures as large as 1.8 million square feet. The Daily Nebraskan has more on this.

Sussex County Building Sets New Geothermal Standard

Work to fix a geothermal system at Sussex County's Emergency Operations Center has attracted national attention and set a standard for the industry. (Due to poor design), the center's geothermal system was not keeping the facility cool; the ground was retaining heat through a process known as thermal retention.

When that occurs, most users abandon the underground loop geothermal system and put in a cooling tower, said Jay Egg of Egg Geothermal.

However, Sussex County engineers worked with him on a supplemental cooling system tied into the existing geothermal system. What the county needed was a new geothermal system to fix its existing geothermal system. The county's geothermal system is supplied by 24 wells, each one a 600-foot closed loop system. A supple-mental pump-and-injection geothermal system turned out to be the permanent fix. The supplemental open-loop well system, which cost more than $470,000, has turned out to be state-of-the- art costing less than $4 a day in electricity to operate.

Ambitious Geothermal Heat Pump Project at Antioch College

According to an article in the Yellow Springs (OH) News, Antioch College will begin construction of its central geothermal system on Friday in what the college sees as a significant step to becoming carbon neutral. The new $8.8 million closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system will save Antioch $400,000 in annual energy costs, and, in conjunction with a planned solar photovoltaic array, would make Antioch the only college heated and cooled exclusively by geothermal and solar power.

The first phase of construction, which will cost $4.7 million and be completed by next April, 150 geothermal (boreholes) will be installed 300-feet deep under about three acres of the Antioch College Farm, a 35-acre parcel. Drilling (began) on Nov. 1 and will take six to eight weeks to complete. The first buildings heated and cooled by the geothermal system will be the Science Building, the renovated theater building and the new Wellness Center, projected to open in June.

With a total capacity of 300 tons, the (boreholes) installed this year will allow South Hall and McGregor Hall to come online during the project’s second phase, which is contingent upon fundraising. A third phase, connect-ing Birch Hall, a new dormitory and additional buildings by 2017, would mean the installation of additional geothermal (boreholes).

Geo Makes Airport Snow Job Easy

The geothermal is going in at an airport in a snowy part of New York State, in a novel way: It will be used to keep snow off the pavement where aircraft are parked.

We say the “other” geothermal because typically we write about utility-scale geothermal projects in which the heat energy from geo-thermal reservoirs is converted into electricity. In this project—at the Greater Binghamton Airport, there’s no power plant. Instead, the relative warmth of the earth underground during the winter is grabbed and brought to the service using water-source heat pumps.

“Binghamton is the first airport in the country to use a geothermal system to heat an aircraft parking ramp,” the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority said in a press release. “The $1.25 million dollar project is expected to result in the avoidance of 103 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually.” The Earth Techling website has more on this.

Staying Steady With Geothermal

Completed in December 2012, the University of North Carolina Coastal Studies Institute is a 52,000 sq. ft. research facility located on Roanoke Island, VA. It includes research labs for marine archeology, coastal processes, estuarine ecology, public policy, and engineering. The new building also offers classrooms and labs as well as marine operations, administration, and research offices.

One of the goals for UNC CSI is to be a model for sustainability in the local and regional communities. As such, the facility was designed and built to achieve LEED Gold certification (pending), with a particular focus on low energy use and water conservation.

A geothermal heating and cooling system was designed and installed in an effort to achieve the greatest energy savings for the HVAC system. The building is heated and cooled with a geothermal system in conjunction with a heat pump chiller/heater, pumps, and central VAV air handling units. The chiller/heater is modular, capable of simultaneously producing chilled water and heated water from a single source of condenser water. The heat pump chiller/heater automatically assigns modules for heating and cooling depending on space conditioning requirements.

The geothermal system was engineered to deliver 40% HVAC system energy savings over typical energy code compliant systems. For more information, check out Today’s Facility Manager

Connecticut Town Signs $10 Million Geo Contract

Honeywell has won a contract to retrofit a number of buildings in the town of Tolland, CT. The revitalization project is expected to save the city nearly $600,000 a year in utility and operating expenses. Those funds will be used to make energy-efficient upgrades across multiple municipal buildings and four public schools. The city’s 20-year, $10-million performance contract with Honeywell will include a number of improvements, among them the installation of geothermal heating and cooling technology at Tolland Middle School and Intermediate School. Energy Manager Today has more information on this.

Walgreens Net Zero Store Relies on Geo

Sporting two wind turbines, 850 solar panels and a geothermal system burrowed 550 feet into the ground, Walgreens has opened the first net-zero energy retail store in the United States. Walgreens is the largest drug store chain in the nation.

Located in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, IL, Walgreen's president of operations Mark Wagner said at the ribbon cutting, "We have facilities that utilize wind turbines, solar installations and geothermal technologies, but this is the first time we are bringing all three of these technologies and many more together in one place. Our purpose as a company is to help people get, stay and live well, and that includes making our planet more livable by conserving resources and reducing pollution."

Here's how this first store will use 40% less energy than conventional stores and generate all the energy it uses onsite:

  • More than 800 solar panels on the roof
  • Two vertical wind turbines;
  • Geothermal cooling and heating
  • LED lighting and daylighting
  • Carbon dioxide refrigerant for heating, cooling and refrigeration equipment
  • Energy efficient building materials.

Thomas Connolly, Walgreens vice president of facilities development, says, "We are investing in a net-zero energy store so we can bring what we learn to our other stores and share what we learn with other companies. Because we operate more than 8,000 stores, anything we do that reduces our carbon footprint can have a broad, positive impact on the nation's environment."

Read the article, or watch a video from the Chicago Tribune.

Bowling Green State University Looks Into Geothermal

Bowling Green University (OH) has been researching possible alter-native energy sources that can be tapped in Wood County. With the recent fracking issue on the Wood County ballot, and this year marking the 10th anniversary of wind turbines in the county, the issue of alternative and renewable energy sources seems especially relevant.

Charles Onasch, director of the geology department at the University, said geothermal energy was at the top of the list. Using geothermal energy will help reduce the University’s carbon footprint.

“We have that heat energy in the earth that we can then extract and use for heating in the buildings or heating for hot water purposes,” Onasch said. “It can both heat and cool, and that’s the beauty of it.”

Nick Hennessy, director of sustainability for the University, said geothermal could cut down on the cost of utilities. “Geothermal represents for us a possible option for reduction of heating and cooling costs,” Hennessy said.

Onasch said the University has been considering geothermal energy since last spring. The main inspiration for geothermal was Ball State University, which has the most notable geothermal installation of any major schools. The BG News carried a more indepth story which you can read here.

“Drill, Baby, Drill” is in Brandeis University Future

The lead article in The New York Times this past week carries hopeful news for anyone not in deep denial about climate change. An analysis of corporate long-range financial plans has revealed that some of the world’s largest companies are preparing to pay up to $60 per ton for carbon pollution. Given the policy direction in Washington and the deepening acceptance that the world cannot keep dumping carbon dioxide indefinitely, some kind of penalty for pollution looks inevitable to these captains of industry.

What would a tax of $60 per ton mean for Brandeis (University – Waltham, MA)?

If the United States starts imposing a tax on the sellers of natural gas, passed onto consumers, we will be paying an extra $243,000 a year just to keep warm. This is an increase of about 11% on our natural gas bill. Over the long haul though, natural gas prices are sure to rise, just as with any non-renewable re-source. And to really incentivize a movement away from fossil fuels, I have seen carbon taxes proposed as high as $100 per ton. Someday then, based on financials alone, Brandeis will need to unhook itself from its giant gas line and do something dramatically different.

The answer is surprisingly obvious. The most efficient way is with high-efficiency heat pumps, and an interesting feature about a heat pump is that it can be run in reverse in summer to provide cool-ing. How to make a heating and cooling cycle especially efficient? Drill, baby, drill: Connect the heat pump to the naturally 55 deg. F ground below the New England frost line. This is called geothermal (or a better term, geoexchange) heating and cooling. Read the article in The Brandeis Hoot.

Sherman Hospital Geo Is Paying Off

Four years after Elgin, IL Advocate Sherman Hospital opened a state-of-the art facility with a geothermal system to heat and cool the facility, officials say the cost savings have pretty much mirrored estimates. The hospital is heated and cooled by a 15-acre, 18-foot-deep lake through a massive system of 185 miles of pipes that pull heat from the lake in winter, and discharge it into the lake in summer.

It's the only geothermal hospital system in Illinois, and the largest in the country, Sherman's director of engineering Ray Diehl said. Before the hospital opened in December 2009, officials estimated it would save $1 million per year in energy costs. In the first year, the hospital saved $1.29 million compared to energy bills at the old Sherman Hospital near downtown Elgin, he said.

That stems from an 80% decrease in natural gas use and a 72% decrease in water use, coupled with a 15% increase in electric use, he said. Savings have since dropped to $800,000 to $900,000 per year because of lower natural gas and electricity rates. "We've been pretty much on track from what (engineers) calculated," he said. See the entire article in the Daily Herald.