What’s Cool About Geothermal Cooling?

What could possibly be worth tearing up the grounds of our beautiful campus? How about the new geothermal heating and cooling system that is being installed in addition to the newly renovated Seymour Hall? Sounds great, but what exactly does geothermal energy entail? Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) extract naturally occurring energy from the earth to heat nearby buildings. This process can be reversed, where the pumps take heat from above ground, such as in a building, and relocate it into the ground. Have you ever gone down into a cave? Did you notice, in the summer, that the cave felt cooler than the outside air? Or, if you’ve gone spelunking in the winter, that it felt warmer? Geothermal heating and cooling utilizes this same phenomenon. Around ten feet underground, the earth maintains a temperature of approximately fifty-four degrees Fahrenheit (about twelve degrees Celsius) regardless of the temperature aboveground. This consistency allows for a reliable source of heat or a heat deposit. A looped system of water-filled pipes called heat exchangers can be installed at this depth. The heat exchangers allow the water to circulate through them, absorb or deposit heat energy underground, then return to the surface to warm or cool the air, respectively. If horizontal underground space is not available for the loop system, it can be installed vertically. Geothermal energy does not require surface accessories like heating and cooling systems that use outdoor air. In comparison to conventional temperature control, geothermal systems are quieter and lower-maintenance. This form of heating and cooling is in many cases the least expensive renewable energy source. It can begin to compensate for the cost of the system installation through energy savings within five to ten years of use, as it costs less to run than more traditional heating systems. The price of the installation varies depending on the type of loop system and scale of the heat distribution, but for most homes, the cost would be in the range of twenty-five-thousand dollars. In addition to the overall low costs, geothermal heating and cooling does not pollute nearly as much as many other, more common, energy sources do. Carbon dioxide emissions are about one-sixth lower than even a relatively clean natural-gas-powered energy source. Geothermal temperature control can be used practically anywhere in the country, as shallow ground temperatures remain consistent. With freezing Ohio winters and steamy Ohio summers, the heat pumps on campus will certainly be put to use!

– Meimei Tannehill ’19

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