Heroic Endeavors: Ball State to Open Nation’s Largest Renewable Heating/Cooling Project

Tapping into energy resources beneath our feet usually means drilling or mining for fossil fuels. But not so deep underground, at about six feet, the temperature stays fairly constant throughout the year, providing a renewable source of energy directly from the earth itself. In order to use this resource, geothermal heat pumps can help cool buildings in warmer seasons and provide heat in cooler times. This technology works by transferring heat either to or from the ground via pumping water through a series of pipes.

Recognizing the benefits of geothermal heat pumps, Ball State University isinstalling the nation’s largest project as a part of replacing a coal fired heating-cooling system. The new system will heat and cool 47 buildings and save $2 million a year while cutting carbon emissions in half.

According to Ball State’s press release, “Construction will continue throughout 2013-2014 and will include a new District Energy Station South containing two 2,500-ton heat pump chillers and a hot water loop around the south portion of campus. The system will then connect to all buildings on campus — eventually providing heating and cooling to 5.5 million square feet.” This includes the Communication and Media Building named after Ball State’s most famous alumnus, David Letterman, a building already awarded LEED silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

“When costs began to escalate for the installation of a new fossil fuel burning boiler, the university began to evaluate other renewable energy options,” said Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction and operations. “This led to the decision to convert the campus to a more efficient geothermal-based heating and cooling system.”

Ball State is demonstrating that renewable energy can work and other universities and communities have been inquiring about this project. To help promote the technology, Lowe is fielding questions and welcoming visitors.

As an ambitious project, Ball State may be the forerunner in demonstrating that the future of heating and cooling may be under your feet.

View a graphic illustration and a two minute video about the project here.