NewEnergyNews: TODAY’S STUDY: LEARNING HOW TO USE GEOTHERMAL BY USING IT

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    Thursday, March 31, 2011

    TODAY’S STUDY: LEARNING HOW TO USE GEOTHERMAL BY USING IT

    On Babe Ruth Day at Yankee Stadium in 1948, the Bambino urged Major League Baseball to help get baseball to “the kids” because “that’s where it has to start.”

    Is there enough effort in that direction by the New Energies? In the paper outlined below, the National Wildlife Foundation describes how the development of geothermal technologies on college campuses can be a home run for both the eductational institutions and the geothermal industry. It would offer the colleges a secure supply of renewable, emissions-free electricity at stable prices while at the same time turning the kids studying on those campuses into a geothermally-aware generation more fully prepared to advance the technology both in the marketplace and the laboratory.

    Ground source heat pumps, one of the technologies described below, are the subject of a controversy especially ripe for the kind of debate that thrives in the halls of knowledge. In the heat pump concept, water is pumped underground and then re-circulated through the building. This captures below-earth temperature-moderating effects that cool the water in the summer and warm it in the winter. As a result, significantly less energy is required to cool water and buildings in the hot part of the year and less is needed to heat them when it is cold.

    Some purists have objected to NewEnergyNews’ coverage of ground source heat pumps, insisting it is not real geothermal energy. Traditionally, geothermal energy captures the earth’s deep heat to turn water into steam that is used to drive electricity-generating turbines in the same way that other power plants use nuclear reactions, burning coal or gas, and focused solar heat to boil water, make steam, drive turbines and create power.

    The purists may be right about the non-traditional nature of the heat pump concept but even outside the ivy-covered tower it is hard not to notice that “geothermal” is a portmanteau word composed of “geo” (earth) and “thermal” (temperature). It might seem academic to ask, but isn’t that exactly what ground source heat pumps are about?

    Now if Boston and New York were to come up with a way to capture all the hot air expended by fans debating the relative merits of the Red Sox and the Yankess and call it a kind of geothermal energy, THAT would be a real debate. It, obviously, is wind power.



    Going Underground on Campus: Tapping the Earth for Clean, Efficient Heating and Cooling; A Guide to Geothermal Energy and Underground Buildings on Campus
    Stan Cross, David J. Eagan and Paul Tolmé with Julian Keniry and John Kelly, March 2011 (National Wildlife Foundation)

    Overview

    This geothermal energy guide is for higher education administrators, staff, faculty and students who are exploring the implications of climate change and seeking cost-effective solutions. It presents information about various types of geothermal energy projects, and provides many case studies from 160 campuses in 36 states across the U.S. that are leading the way in the implementation of such projects. Five different geothermal systems are highlighted: ground-source heat pumps, direct geothermal, aquifer and lake-based, geothermal electricity, and earth-sheltered buildings. The goals of this guide are to inform institutions about geothermal energy’s potential to heat, cool and power American higher education, to inspire campuses to consider using geothermal technologies to lower long-term energy costs and energy demand, and to reach greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

    As a founding organization of the climate action movement, NWF’s Campus Ecology has helped hundreds of colleges and universities cut greenhouse gas emissions, save millions on energy costs and embed environmental values in campus operations and curriculum. Campus Ecology has worked closely with all types of schools: public and private, large and small, community and technical colleges. As a result, it has a breadth of experience, ideas and resources to offer any college or university. The mission of Campus Ecology is to foster climate leadership on campuses nationwide and to protect wildlife and our children’s future against the growing threat of global climate change. This report is a guide for administrators, staff, faculty and students exploring the implications of climate change and seeking cost-effective solutions. It presents a scientific overview of global warming and a review of the business, educational and moral arguments for confronting this problem. Case studies from a diverse group of leading campuses illustrate energy-conserving and emissions-saving projects, effective financing strategies and creative ways to involve the campus community. A section on the planning process and implementation steps is included to help campuses get a jump on cutting costs and reducing their carbon footprint.

    NWF’s goal for society—and for higher education—is to reduce carbon emissions by 2% per year, leading to an 80% cut by 2050. Achieving 2% or greater reductions each year can start with simple actions like lowering the thermostat or installing occupancy sensors. But this call for action on campus goes beyond asking for small steps. Heeding the world’s top scientists who warn that global warming will trigger a potential cascade of negative consequences, Campus Ecology urges bold action and critical leadership today and throughout the next decades, when our actions will determine the fate of the climate for generations to come.

    U.S. Geothermal (click to enlarge)

    The National Wildlife Federation and Global Warming

    In 2005, the National Wildlife Federation established global warming as one of three chief concerns for the organization, recognizing that it could not successfully protect wildlife without also working to stabilize the climate. While the impacts of global warming are an overarching threat to wildlife and ecosystems, their reach also will touch every facet of society—human health, agriculture, national security and the economy. Turning the tide on global warming may be the most far-reaching challenge of our time, but it also is an extraordinary opportunity to create more efficient, resilient and sustainable colleges and universities—and to inspire students to make a commitment to climate action in their lives and careers.

    NWF’s Campus Ecology program has focused its attention on global warming solutions and is committed to providing resources to assist postsecondary institutions make the transition to a low-carbon, clean energy future. Contrary to conventional opinion, the path to climate sustainability not only is technologically possible but it can save substantial amounts of money. This report offers a roadmap for how colleges and universities can make it happen.

    Foreword

    You are in for a treat. The National Wildlife Federation has compiled in this document a concise, well-organized and very instructive survey of the landscape of opportunities for colleges and universities to employ geothermal technologies and earth-integrated architecture on their respective campuses….The benefits and challenges are many…Installing geothermal technologies sets the stage for more strategic climate action planning…Cost benefit considerations affect decisions…In running such projections, even at modest unit-cost per ton of CO2e emissions, colleges and universities will face significant long-term annual tax encumbrance for on-site (SCOPE 1) fossil-fuel combustion. Geothermal technology shifts that avoidable cost upstream to the utilities that generate the electrical power…

    Required acreage can be a challenge. To the extent that placement of bore-hole fields for closed-loop heat pump systems can be aggregated in one or two centralized areas of a campus, the challenge is less daunting…Another challenge is that of time…The better strategy for implementation over time requires a whole-systems vision and scheduled integration of campus-wide geothermal technologies…Geothermal technology can be integral to the educational…Active learning that can be structured into day-to-day operation of such systems…Campuses are uniquely suited to lead the way in geothermal technology implementation…Nonetheless, the jury is still out on several important concerns. One involves the unfortunate continuing use of ‘years of payback’ as a decision metric…Another concern is the confrontational nature of ‘reactionary planning’ for a new technology…

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    Introduction

    WHAT IS GEOTHERMAL ENERGY?

    Renewable energy is steadily gaining ground on higher education campuses, and with good reason. The primary reason may be to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, but many schools are also finding that on-campus renewable energy initiatives create economic advantages, educational opportunities, energy security and even green jobs. Of the sources of largely carbon-neutral renewable energy available to colleges and universities—including solar, wind, biomass, micro-hydro and geothermal—it is geothermal energy that offers the most dependably-constant and low-impact supply.

    Geothermal energy is defined most simply as ‘heat of the earth.’ It is naturally abundant everywhere and is considered a renewable resource because it is generated from continually available sources—either solar radiation striking and stored in the ground or residual heat released from deep within the earth’s crust. Different technologies have been developed to use the earth’s heat to provide clean, renewable energy options for heating and cooling buildings, and—where conditions are right — the production of abundant electricity.

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    WHY GEOTHERMAL ENERGY?

    There are many advantages to using geothermal energy, including rapid return on investment, relatively low cost, and longevity of duration. Compared to other renewable energy sources, geothermal applications have high returns on investment (ROI) as a result of relatively short payback periods. The costs for installing geothermal heating and cooling systems or electric power generation are quickly recouped as a result of significant energy cost savings. The long term environmental and economic benefits combine to make geothermal energy a very attractive option, especially with the heating, cooling and powering of campus buildings which are responsible for the largest share of higher education’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This is why government agencies, the commercial renewable energy sector and renewable energy advocates are pushing for increased investment in geothermal energy technologies, which currently contribute to only around five percent of total U.S. renewable energy delivery…

    ABOUT THIS GUIDE

    This geothermal energy guide is for higher education administrators, staff, faculty and students who are exploring the implications of climate change and seeking cost-effective solutions. It presents information about various types of geothermal energy projects, and provides many case studies from a diverse group of campuses across the U.S. that are leading the way in the implementation of such projects. The goals of this guide are to inform institutions about geothermal energy’s potential to heat, cool and power American higher education, to inspire campuses to consider using geothermal technologies to lower long-term energy costs and energy demand, and to reach greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

    click to enlarge

    THE OPPORTUNITIES FOR USING GEOTHERMAL TECHNOLOGIES ON CAMPUS

    Over the past decade, higher education institutions across the country have invested heavily in geothermal energy. There are now around two hundred American campuses that have implemented geothermal technologies—including earth-integrated buildings—and many more are in the planning process. (See Appendices A and C for lists of schools with geothermal systems and earth-integrated buildings.)

    The great majority of installations are geothermal ground-source heat pumps (GHPs) and earth sheltered buildings, but there are a handful of other successful projects including lake-cooling, direct-use high temperature geothermal, and electricity-generating geothermal. The growth in numbers of systems is largely the result of both rising energy costs and increasing concern about climate change. Explanations and illustrations for each type of system are ahead in section III.

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    Geothermal resources offer an efficient, renewable alternative for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems needed for buildings. Plus, such earth-heat resources are found in virtually every geographical location in the U.S. where campuses have been built. Across the country, decision makers are coming around to the fact that geothermal energy is a smart environmental and economic investment.

    Strategic use of of geothermal energy can be a key component of a climate action plan. While improving energy efficiency and reducing demand are essential approaches to cutting a campus carbon footprint, using carbon-neutral renewables like geothermal can offer significant, long-term reductions. Realizing the savings potential, Ball State University (IN) has already broken ground on an ambitious campus-wide geothermal system to provide heating and cooling energy for its entire campus (see story on page 24). And the University of Minnesota has cut energy demand by placing major portions of several structures below ground.

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    There are thousands of colleges and universities in America, and a quarter million individual campus buildings (see box). Since the vast majority are still heated and cooled with fossil fuels, buildings are one of schools’ primary sources of harmful emissions. In fact, the coal, oil, natural gas and electricity required to maintain comfortable temperatures throughout the year accounts for fifty to ninety percent of total direct emissions—primarily carbon dioxide (CO2)—on a typical campus. In addition, fossil fuels are associated with many serious environmental and social costs due to extraction, processing and shipping. Because geothermal energy does not rely on these CO2-intensive resources or require any offsite extraction, processing or shipping, it provides energy that has a significantly smaller carbon (and overall environmental) footprint. Renewable sources of energy, while not perfect, offer a significantly lesser overall impact and carbon footprint.

    Another advantage to geothermal energy projects is the flexibility of application. Whether constructing new buildings or renovating older structures, schools can design and install geothermal systems to meet part or all of their HVAC heating and cooling requirements. Urban campuses excluded, the majority of colleges and universities are typically situated on campuses that have abundant land where such systems can be hidden from sight. In fact, unlike highly visible installations, such as solar panels or a wind turbine, a school may need to maintain an educational effort to keep the campus—and especially new students and staff—informed about the presence and benefits of their geothermal installations.

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    FINANCING STRATEGIES

    In addition to investing campus resources, administrators drew on one or more of at least ten different sources to finance some of the geothermal systems featured in this guide. This table shows the range of possibilities…

    PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE

    The rest of this guide focuses on the practical applications of earth-based thermal resources, both geothermal technology and earth-integrated architecture, for colleges and universities. This vast renewable resource—possibly the best means to effectively displace fossil fuels currently used for heating and cooling buildings—holds great promise as one of the key solutions needed to put a halt to greenhouse gas pollution, not just from campuses but from the built environment nationwide.

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    REVIEW OF GEOTHERMAL TECHNOLOGIES: WHAT IS GEOTHERMAL ENERGY? A TECHNICAL EXPLANATION

    Geothermal energy originates from one of two sources:

    1. Solar energy stored in ground or water near the surface and

    2. Heat from the earth’s inner mantle that is accessible relatively near the surface (within a few miles).

    Five technological processes are commercially available to capture this abundance of
    renewable energy, and each is reviewed below:

    1. Geothermal heat pumps (also called ground source heat pumps)

    2. Aquifer thermal energy storage

    3. Direct-use geothermal

    4. Geothermal electricity

    5. Earth-integrated architecture

    Geothermal heat pumps and earth-sheltered buildings can be used nearly anywhere in the country. Geothermal electricity, direct-use geothermal and aquifer thermal storage have special geologic requirements and hence are more site-specific. Although each of these technologies comes with a higher upfront cost than traditional heating and cooling and electricity generation systems, payback periods can be as short as one to seven years and the long-term energy savings can be worth millions. See Section IV, Campus Case Studies, for examples of campuses across the country that are reaping the economic and environmental benefits of geothermal energy…

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    GEOTHERMAL TECHNOLOGIES ON CAMPUS: PRESENT AND FUTURE

    The future of geothermal energy and earth-integrated architecture on college and university campuses looks promising indeed. The snapshots above of 35 campuses with either geothermal installations or underground buildings are just a modest percentage of the total of 77 schools and 230 buildings across the country (see Appendices A and C) that are teaching—by example—the art of the possible. But these are just a hint of what’s to come.

    In this final section we explore several important themes that bear further emphasis. First, renewable energy technologies on campus not only have financial, environmental and societal benefits, they also can yield significant educational value. Most schools, it seems to us, appear to have under-utilized those potential learning opportunities and so we encourage all schools to do more.

    Next, we look briefly at the potential for careers in geothermal technologies. There is, of course, massive job growth anticipated in all renewable energy fields—and community colleges in particular have heeded that call. Finally, we raise the question that must always be asked by a wildlife protection organization: can we move forward with minimal impact on the environment and on the animal and plant life which depend on it for their long term survival? The National Wildlife Federation’s mission is to protect wildlife and natural systems for our children’s future. College and university campuses offer a shining hope to instill that value in the next generation of national leaders.

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    An Extraordinary Educational Opportunity

    Geothermal systems and earth-sheltered architecture, regardless of their respective scales of installation or technology type, may be mostly hidden from view underground—but lessons about them can be lifted up and brought into educational programming within and beyond the classroom. As Professor Koester mentions in his foreword, students who study engineering, energy technologies, green buildings and other disciplines have much to learn about systems-based energy design especially on campuses that use district (multiple buildings) or whole campus heating/cooling systems.

    As part of their educational experience, students on campuses with geothermal, solar or other types of clean energy systems can be asked to track system performance over time, evaluate returns on investment and educate the wider campus and public communities. At places such as the Oregon Institute of Technology and Richard Stockton College, students sometimes give tours to show their geothermal installation to peers and visitors. When geothermal systems are metered and incorporated into real-time energy monitoring, students and building occupants can begin to visualize energy and resource use, compare operational performance and follow trends across monthly climate variation and/or building types.

    And educational options aren’t only for an individual college or university. Thanks to the internet, schools can educate not only their campus community but also the world beyond by showcasing their campus geothermal systems and other sustainability initiatives with descriptive narratives and real-time performance ‘dashboards’ posted to campus websites. Creating and updating such information sources is a perfect opportunity for students to make a far-reaching and lasting contribution. In short, as with any project on campus that conserves resources, the benefits beyond the purely environmental or financial aspects can be substantially educational—for students, faculty, staff and the wider community.

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    Expanding Career Pathways in Renewable Energy

    The geothermal industry—in the electricity-generating sector alone—saw an estimated twenty-six percent surge in domestic geothermal projects since 2009, according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy report.54 This is good news for colleges and universities, as the report notes: “This substantial growth will require an educated and trained workforce to locate new geothermal resources, develop new reservoirs, and build and administer the power plants.” The Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) estimates that geothermal energy employed 18,000 people in 2008—5,000 direct and 13,000 supporting positions, not including those employed in the manufacture or installation of geothermal heat-pumps.55 Employment in geothermal energy is expected to continue to increase in coming years.

    Energy analysts hold that geothermal technologies offer more and better jobs than conventional fossil fuel technologies. For example, total employment for a 500 MW natural gas plant is around 2,500 workers versus around 27,000 for a geothermal energy plant.56 In its 2010 study, “Green Jobs through Geothermal Energy,” the GEA notes that geothermal industries offer relatively higher-paying and longer-term jobs than local averages and that one plant can involve as many as 860 different people with a broad range of skills.57

    Career pathways in the geothermal power industry will be open to skilled workers in a wide variety of fields. The GEA green jobs study offers detailed charts on types of jobs involved and education levels required at each phase of project implementation from start-up to exploration, to feasibility (test) drilling, installation drilling and site construction, to operations and maintenance. Roles include degreed professionals such as engineers, geologists and geophysicists as well as ‘green collar’ laborers who work as drill rig operators, welders, mechanics and safety managers. In support positions, geothermal development will also require greater numbers of lawyers, project managers, archeologists, sales people, assembly workers and administrative staff.

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    Job opportunities and career paths in the ground-source geothermal heat pump (GHP) industry, similarly, are expected to increase. The use of GHP technologies represented four percent of new single-family home HVAC heating/cooling tonnage58 in 2008 rising to six percent in 2009, according to GEO. It cites the U.S. Department of Energy’s goal for industry growth of one million GHP installations annually by 2017—a cumulative total of 3.3 million GHP installations—creating an estimated 100,000 new jobs and reducing U.S. annual CO2 emissions by approximately 26 million metric tons.

    Among the professions and trades benefiting from the GHP industry are water well drilling companies that have entered the market for drilling boreholes to install loop fields and wells. HVAC companies have expanded their business to include installation and maintenance of geothermal heat pumps and related equipment. Architects and design firms have embraced geothermal alternatives, working with clients on GHP and direct-heat projects at all levels.

    To meet the increasing demand for education and training, programs in renewable energy technologies, including geothermal, at community colleges and other postsecondary institutions across the U.S. have been going strong.60 An internet search quickly brings up geothermal courses and programs at dozens of schools. And places like the Energy Center of Wisconsin61 are meeting the needs of working building industry technicians and professionals with courses on commercial and residential geothermal systems.

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    Protecting Wildlife and the Environment

    No energy source is free of environmental impacts. Although geothermal systems can dramatically reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with heating and cooling buildings, they are not a panacea and must be carefully designed and monitored to safeguard environmental values such as biological diversity and water quality. As documented in many of the case studies within this guide, campus leaders are evaluating these impacts and devising best practices to avoid or reduce them. Schools employing open loop and aquifer-based systems, in particular, are evaluating the impact of underground water temperature changes on microbes and other life forms, aiming to maintain normal seasonal water temperatures, protect freshwater resources and prevent any harm to wildlife.

    The use of antifreeze or refrigerants in some geothermal systems that may mix with groundwater or release ozone-depleting chemicals and greenhouse gases (CFCs and HCFCs) is another issue of concern, yet little is known about these impacts. By optimizing building efficiency, campus designers can reduce the required quantity of bore-holes (and resulting closed loop system field size) or minimize open loop well-withdrawal requirements, further reducing environmental changes. In the final analysis, however, any geothermal technology impacts must be evaluated and balanced against the alternative environmental harm that would be caused by other sources of heating and cooling , primarily those that require the extraction, transport and burning of fossil fuels. It always should be the case that conservation and efficiency measures are the first priority before a campus chooses to employ geothermal technologies or any type of clean energy system for buildings.

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