Geothermal HVAC Solutions to Future Proof Education Facilities
There is a lot of buzz surrounding decarbonization, sustainable design, renewable energy, and green building technologies. What does it all mean when addressing your next renovation or building project? To balance the building systems for facilities right now with the anticipated needs of the future, one eco-friendly energy solution rises to the top – and it is now more affordable than ever before.
Stepping away from the conventional HVAC systems that consume nonrenewable fossil fuels, like a chiller and boiler system, education facilities are turning to renewable energy sources that are becoming more accessible and affordable. Specifically, integrating geothermal heat pump technology into operational or new facilities is gaining popularity. Geothermal HVAC systems offer benefits like life-cycle cost savings, reducing your facility’s environmental impact, improved year-round occupant comfort, and is quieter than conventional systems which lowers distractions for students in the classroom.
Geothermal HVAC systems utilize the constant Earth temperature to heat and cool facilities. Upgrades in technology make it possible to integrate geothermal HVAC systems with electrical-based systems and other energy-efficient / renewable options, like photovoltaic solar energy and solar thermal energy. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognizes geothermal HVAC systems as the most energy-efficient and environmentally safe heating and cooling system option.
New legislation is on the way to make the use of geothermal HVAC technologies more affordable for public entities and non-profits. Prior to 2022, the alternative energy base credit for commercial buildings was a 10% tax credit for ground source heat pumps. The new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) changed this to a 6% tax credit with an additional 2% for systems using products made in the USA, but also added a 5x multiplier to both of these percentages along with extending the geothermal tax credits into 2035. Public and non-profit organizations can also now qualify for up to 40% direct reimbursement for the installation of geothermal HVAC systems, once put into service, with one of the following criteria in place:
- The project has a net output of less than 1 Megawatt (MW), or
- Meets prevailing wage and apprenticeship (P+A) requirements
The language surrounding these changes is still in development. Clarification on if these credits apply to the entire cost of updating existing building systems with a new geothermal system, direct payment options, and more are likely to become available within the first quarter of 2023.
GMB has almost 30 years of experience designing geothermal energy systems and has transformed HVAC systems at more than 40 education facilities across the Midwest. Our team has multiple Certified GeoExchange Designers on staff who have implemented these changes for our education clients. GMB has a network of resources to connect your district or campus with the right funding, contractors, suppliers, and more. We have an established process in place, from design and energy / building performance modelling through commissioning, to accurately define and support the systems your project needs.
After completing our analysis of the existing systems as well as facility constraints, GMB proposed replacing the existing three distributed boiler plants with new geothermal heat pump-based plants. The project consisted of three central geothermal heat pump plants, 244 bores and has a 600-ton cooling capacity. MCCC anticipates that the new geothermal system will yield an annual energy consumption reduction of around 27,000 MMBtu, which translates to energy savings of $275,000 annually, or $5.5 million over 20 years.
East Lansing Public Schools passed a bond proposal to replace all five elementary buildings in the district with an emphasis on sustainability. Donley Elementary incorporated a geothermal heating and cooling system paired with an onsite solar array for their electric-based HVAC system, which has realized significant energy savings for the district and an operating Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of 28.1 kBtu/sf-yr. This combination of energy solutions has yielded a building that has near zero site CO2 emissions and relies on the utility grid for an estimated 56% of its power needs. This project was recognized as a first-place winner in the ‘Education Facilities – New Construction’ category for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Western Michigan Chapter’s 2022 Technology Awards.
Want to learn more?Reach out to one of our design professionals
Trent is a mechanical designer and Certified GeoExchange Designer. He loves helping clients run their buildings efficiently, and working with them to select systems that are going to work best for their institutions over the long haul.
Kevin is a K-12 client lead at GMB who has helped to manage more than a half billion dollars of K-12 school bond work across Michigan. He is a Certified GeoExchange Designer with a passion for sustainable design and helping clients achieve their project goals.
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