A “Cool” Twist for Geothermal Technology

Decades ago, someone asked, “What if we could tap into the Earth’s natural heating system and put it to work for people?” The concept was explored, and geothermal technology was born, utilizing water to transfer heat from the earth to pumps that in turn heat places—such as small commercial buildings, schools and other medium-sized environments—in the winter. The technology was also “reversed” to cool those environments in the summer. This incredible innovation leveraged a free, renewable underground energy source to provide consistent, efficient, eco-friendly heating and cooling at lower costs than traditional fuel-burning methods.

As is the nature of scientists, when it came to geothermal heating and cooling, we thought there has to be a way to do it better. Working with Bosch Thermotechnology Corp. we pushed to do just that at William L. Buck Elementary School in New York. What makes this pilot system at the school better than the standard geothermal heating/cooling systems is that instead of the need to drill and install multiple geothermal ground loops for water-heat transfer, we’re utilizing the cooling and heating potential stored right in the water mains that were already in place. Consequently, through this geothermal innovation the school:

  1. Has saved approximately $600,000 in installation costs over traditional geothermal systems
  2. Is experiencing an estimated $40,000 savings in heating cost for the district per year
  3. Now has the opportunity to remain open in July and August thanks to a cooler, more comfortable environment
  4. Employs a cleaner, quieter and safer heating/cooling system

These benefits don’t even touch on the “trickle down” impact such as greater student and faculty productivity that comes from having a quieter, more comfortable working and learning environment. Beyond this initial test system, American Water is going even further by exploring ways to use the heat capacity of wastewater and recycled water systems for use in water-scarce regions so that we can achieve virtually zero waste.

How exciting it is to think what this type of heating/cooling system could mean for schools, businesses and organizations—not to mention our planet—if such systems were implemented nationwide. Working with partners and communities, we’re getting a glimpse into a great future.