Campuses Save Money by Tapping Into Geothermal Energy

New report shows how campuses save money by using geothermal energy

02-28-2011 // Mary Burnette
Geothermal Report

Some of Mother Nature’s best kept secrets can’t even be seen. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and its partners have released a first-of-its kind report, Going Underground on Campus: Tapping the Earth for Clean, Efficient Heating and Cooling. Documenting more than 160 colleges and universities in 36 states, the report illustrates how campuses are tapping geothermal energy to cut energy use by 30-70%, and simultanteously reduce CO2 pollution.

The nation’s 4,100 two and four-year colleges and universities, which spend more than $20 billion each year on energy ($5 million on average per campus), could collectively save between $2-7 billion in energy costs, and cut the nation’s carbon footprint by up to one percent annually, if they used geothermal heat pumps for most heated and cooled space. 

Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, for example, anticipates net annual savings of $2 million and an estimated 50% reduction in greenhouse pollution by using a network system of geothermal heat pumps in place of worn-out coal-fired boilers to heat and cool 45 buildings. Professor Robert  Koester, author of the foreword to the report says because of the scale of this geothermal system and the fact that it is integrated into all campus buildings, they will be able to effectively trade energy from one building to another. 

 The report examines five types of geothermal systems in place on U.S. campuses, including:

  •  ground-source heat pumps
  •  earth sheltered buildings (the most common varieties)
  •  direct geothermal,
  •  aquifer thermal energy storage, and
  •  geothermal electricity. 

The stakes for colleges and universities are considerable.  The University of Illinois alone spends approximately $100 million annually on energy. Energy costs at UW-Madison spiked 77% between 2001-2006 even though square footage rose by only 7% during that time.  Meanwhile, climate scientists mandate an 80% cut or larger in greenhouse gas pollution by or before 2050. 

College building

Written by Stan Cross, education director at Warren Wilson College, David J. Eagan, outreach specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Paul Tolmé, environment, science and outdoors writer, and others, the report is published by NWF’s Campus Ecology Program in partnership with GEO, the non-profit trade association of the geothermal heat pump industry, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), and APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities, along with Jobs for the Future and the Energy Action Coalition. It is funded, in part, through generous support from The Kendeda Fund.

In addition to energy and costs savings, the report documents a variety of other benefits, including enhanced comfort and educational value and the creation of good, new jobs.

At University of Illinois-Chicago’s Grant Hall, for example, the new geothermal heat pump system has made it easier to maintain a consistent temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and has reduced complaints about inconsistent temperatures.

During a scorching summer in 2008 when temperatures topped 100 degrees for 16 days, the Ezell Center at Lipscomb University, which uses geothermal heat pumps, was one of the coolest buildings on campus. 

Investment in geothermal systems also yields educational and career benefits as well.  GEO expects 1 million new geothermal heat pump installations by 2017 creating 100,000 new jobs, many of which will require degrees or credentials from two or four-year colleges and universities.  Jobs in geothermal are predicted to multiply faster than most occupations over 2008-2018.

For a free copy of the report, go to www.nwf.org/campusecology

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