Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana is busy installing the largest US geothermal heat pump project. Once complete this renewable energy system will heat and cool 47 out of 50 campus buildings and eliminate four existing coal fired boilers which burn 36,000 tons of coal per year. Each year Ball State will offset enough of its thermal energy demand to save over $2 million and offset more than 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
This renewable energy project continues the legacy of energy pioneering that was started by the Ball brothers when they operated a glass manufacturing company in the early 1900s. Ball State received $50 million in state appropriations and federal stimulus funding to complete phase one of the project. Now they are looking towards phase two and completion of the geothermal system. This project has a been a boon on the local and state level – creating approximately 900 jobs while saving money and the environment. Like many campus environmental initiatives, this is being done because of its environmental and societal benefits, not merely because it will save money.
Ball State will drill between 3,700 and 4,000 vertical wells across the campus for the geothermal system to function properly. They will circulate geothermal energy through three pump centers which will distribute both warm and chilled water throughout the campus buildings. Since buildings are occupied at differing times this geothermal system simply move energy between the buildings to keep efficiency levels very high. Whereas in a normal campus building you would open the window if a room became too hot, this geothermal heat pump system will extract heat from that warm room and either put in a room which is too cold or put the heat back in the ground for later use.
Geothermal systems are feasible for any size home or building, not just for the large commercial project. Heat pumps are becoming recognized across the United States as the premier choice for climate control. Since heating and cooling accounts for roughly 50% of all home energy expenditures, it makes sense to use this proven technology to reduce that portion of the building energy consumption by 70 percent. Not only are homeowners saving more and more money on utilities as the cost of fossil fuels increase, they are decreasing their carbon footprint and using the generous 30% federal tax credit to help offset the cost of their geothermal systems.
Ball State is proving to the United States that geothermal heat pump systems are a viable alternative to traditional heating and cooling systems on a very large scale. By saving money, decreasing environmental impact and creating jobs I would say that this project is an complete success.