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West Chester University has received grants totaling $5 million to expand the geothermal system on its campus. This is the third phase in a 10-year initiative to convert the heating and cooling systems of more than 25 buildings to geoexchange, utilizing a common (district) well field. The grants convert three buildings (Anderson, Recitation and Ruby Jones) to a geoexchange system using district wells. Construction will begin this summer.
The conversion of these three buildings will reduce CO₂emissions by 4.7 million pounds a year.
"We are committed to geothermal energy for both new construction and renovation of existing buildings," says Greg Cuprak, Executive Director of Facilities Management. “Not only is there a significant savings to the University but it also reduces our environmental footprint.”
West Chester University introduced geothermal heating and cooling in 2005 with the construction of 11 apartment buildings on its south campus, continued with the renovation of a 53,000-square-foot academic building and the construction of two seven-story residence halls in 2008.
The University currently has 15 buildings using geothermal.
When the entire district system is completed, the system will have 1,200 wells located mostly under parking lots, and 20,000 feet of piping distributing clean energy throughout campus. The cost of heating on the campus will be reduced by 40 percent and cooling by 20 percent – a savings of approximately $1 million a year. Long-term benefits of the conversion include the shutdown of the central heating plant, eliminating all coal (7,000 tons per year) and most fuel oil (200,000 gallons per year) burned on campus.
Geothermal systems extract heating and cooling energy from the ground through a closed loop system of 400-foot-deep wells with vertical pipes containing water. With the ground temperature below the frost line remaining constant (around 55 degrees year-round) in winter, the earth’s natural heat warms the water, and circulating pumps move the water through the closed loop carrying the heat to the buildings. In summer the process is reversed: The system draws excess heat from the building, expels it into the loop and the earth absorbs it.
The system at West Chester University uses plain water within a contained loop so there is no potential contamination. “Other systems use alcohol to allow for lower operating temperature,” said Cuprak, “but we consciously chose to use plain water.”