Geothermal is the overlooked younger brother of renewables – full of potential, but lost in the buzz surrounding the superstar siblings of solar and wind. But while the breeze come and goes and clouds (as well as the inevitable night) lessen the reliability of the sun’s energy, the geothermal potential beneath our feet remains stable year-round. At Ball State in Indiana, construction crews are more than halfway through a massive geothermal project to heat and cool the University’s 47 buildings.
The project, which will be the United States’ largest closed geothermal energy system, covers over 730 acres at a cost of nearly $75 million – though planners say it will save the University more than $2 million annually while halving the institution’s CO2 output. With current prices for electricity, the project should pay for itself as early as 2050.
The University’s decision to tap into the earth’s latent heat came when officials decided to replace the four massive coal burners traditionally used to heat the campus. Several renewable energy options were surveyed, including biomass burners. The University eventually opted for the cheaper, easier to maintain geothermal route as several local firms specialized in the technology.
The project consists of over 3,600 holes bored up to 500 feet into the earth, connected by an elaborate network of piping that extends nearly 10 miles. The pipes create loops of hot and cold water, used to heat and cool the buildings on campus, with pumps bringing the nearly 150 degree earth-heated water to the surface for use.
The geothermal heat pump system will be fully completed next year, and will supply all of the heating and cooling power for the entire campus. University officials hope to set a precedent in the region, and bring geothermal power into the green-energy limelight.
Photo via Ball State University