Find out what makes geothermal attractive to FMs and where it’s already in use
Digging Deep for
Since the 1948 construction of the Commonwealth Building, facilities have been steadily adopting geo- thermal solutions to save money on
HVAC. The Portland, OR building was the first
commercial facility to install ground source heat
pumps (GSHP) for cooling and heating, proving
that large-scale applications were feasible.
26 BUILDINGS 11. 16
and savings on energy spend. Energy generation is one way geo-
thermal can make an impact on a facility. In especially rich geo-
thermal areas, water found below the Earth’s surface can be hot
enough to turn steam turbines in electric generators. Some facili-
ties have adopted systems like these to achieve net zero status.
Also, with HVAC consuming 44% of the energy in commer-
cial buildings, geothermal heat pumps provide a cost-saving
alternative. Geothermal heat pumps can heat and cool build-
ings with very low electricity demand and can reduce emis-
sions, returning costs to users in 5-10 years.
Not only is it a more efficient energy source, but geother-
mal is also versatile. Many renewable energy sources require
specific climate conditions, but geothermal can be installed in
nearly any climate. As the DOE explains, “Ground tempera-
ture is warmer than the air above it during the winter and
cooler than the air in the summer. The geothermal heat pump
takes advantage of this by exchanging heat with the earth
through a ground heat exchanger.” Thus, geothermal can sta-
bilize air temperature in a building because of its consistency.
Unlike other energy sources, geothermal does not rely
on any finite quantity of resources – it merely requires the
Earth’s interior to maintain its temperature as it’s done for
billions of years. Furthermore, the reliability of geothermal
systems themselves provide stability. The low-maintenance
system has a 50-year life span for ground loops and 20 years
and up for pumps and compressors.
Reliability extends beyond simply the physical nature of
geothermal. Energy costs after installation stay steady, which
provide a distinct advantage over other renewable energy
sources because that considerably reduces price volatility.
In addition to its geothermal capabilities, the Commonwealth
Building was ahead of its time in including features like double
glazing, heat recovery from ventilation exhaust air and alumi-
num sheathing. While the 15-story, 215,000-square-foot office
building stands today, the geothermal system was decommis-
sioned in 1992. The building is designated as a National Historic
Mechanical Engineering Landmark by ASME and is on the
National Register of Historic Places for its notable achievement
in geothermal history.
Despite being a relic of sorts, the Commonwealth Building is
nevertheless remembered for ushering in a new era of sustainable facilities, as the number of geothermal applications has
increased, as 50,000 geothermal heat pumps are installed in the
U.S each year. But with all of the other sustainable energy solutions out there, what is so appealing about geothermal energy?
Perhaps most importantly, geothermal provides steady ROI
continued on page 30