Seven geothermal fields are tucked under the
stately campus of Harvard University. The institution has a 2016 goal to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions
by 30% from a 2006 baseline. Geothermal is one of several key
strategies to satisfy energy demands while continuing to shrink
Harvard’s carbon footprint.
“Harvard actively invests in the transition to renewable and
alternative energy sources as part of our aggressive climate goal,”
explains Heather Henriksen, Director of the Office for Sustainabil-
ity. “Geothermal, in addition to on-site solar and cogeneration, are
opportunities to accelerate the progression to clean energy.”
“As the university continues to grow, geothermal can be an
attractive alternative where extension of the district energy system
may be cost-prohibitive,” according to Jeffrey Smith, Director of
Facilities Maintenance Operations for Harvard University Campus
Services. “The environmental benefits and aesthetic profile of
geothermal offers an attractive alternative to conventional cooling
towers.” Switching to geothermal also minimizes HVAC equipment
Whether you are ready for geothermal now or are
considering it for the future, the nine geothermal projects
presented in this issue range widely in their applications.
These projects all exemplify innovation in geothermal and
have paid dividends for their facilities with this clean
Jennie Morton is a contributing editor for BUILDINGS.
Justin Feit firstname.lastname@example.org is assistant editor
programs, tax breaks and policies to predict the future of geothermal applications.
“Although policymakers favor geothermal power through
mandates and subsidies, markets, not government policies, are
best equipped to determine the true economic viability of geothermal power,” the researchers explain.
“New technology and increased market demand will likely
decrease the need for subsidies and make geothermal more
economically viable,” explain the researchers. As geothermal
systems increase to the tune of 50,000 per year, the feasibility
of more affordable implementation might also increase.
clutter and mechanical noise on campus, adds Lester Gerry, Director
of Facilities Management at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for
As the urban campus is densely populated with structures, most
of Harvard’s geothermal installations use open loops. One of the
largest fields, the Radcliffe system, was installed in 2006. Five
additional wells were added in 2009 to serve Byerly Hall and eventually Fay House in 2012.
“An interconnecting chilled water loop was installed in 2014,
allowing all main buildings on Radcliffe’s campus to use geother-
mal. This one field serves approximately 220,000 square feet of
space, and energy consumption for heating and cooling is down
over 60%,” explains Gerry. “We continue to maximize the geother-
mal efficiency by using the heating side well water in the winter for
archival vault cooling. This saves energy on direct expansion (DX)
cooling and aids the wells by adding heat energy.”
The sole closed-loop system serves the Arnold Arboretum
(image on the left) and Weld Hill Research Center, where there was
enough space to install the system. It has 88 vertical wells that are
500 feet deep and 11 heat pumps of 35 tons each. As greenhouses
have significant cooling demands and laboratories require additional ventilation, geothermal minimizes the site’s energy profile.
The fields also serve as a living lab for engineering students. For
example, a team of engineering undergraduates from the John A.
Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences ran an analysis on the Byerly system to see if it could support an additional
load from the adjacent Fay House without losing any efficiencies.
Their modeling determined that the Fay House could replace its
conventional HVAC units without having to drill new wells just by
adding three pumps.
Geothermal has also provided the university with valuable
O&M learning opportunities, particularly as the school handled
the system design. Several installations have required additional
equipment purchases and reengineering to fine-tune performance.
“Rather than see these redesigns as setbacks, the university transparently discusses these challenges so others can learn from our
findings,” notes Smith.
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