Marc Lefkowitz | 09/22/08 @ 11:59am
Just as big institutions are set up to share resources like phone lines, computer networks and food service, some are starting to tap common "underground" where the temperature hovers in the mid-fifties and acts a stable source of warmth in the winter and cool in the summer.
The economics of district-wide geothermal have improved in the last decade to compete with conventional fossil-fuel driven systems, says Jeff Wolf, chief operating officer of EnLink Geothermal, a Houston-based company with multiple patents and plenty of experience in geothermal installation.
Representatives from Case, UCI, Cleveland Clinic, city of Cleveland, Flats East Bank and Neighborhood Progress, Inc.- which is considering geothermal district power at its St. Luke's development-met yesterday at the Cleveland Foundation, which brought Wolf in for a visit.
The sleeping giant that could tip the balance in favor of "greening the grid" in University Circle, and at the proposed University Arts and Retail District, might be University Hospitals, whose campus is so big that it operates its own power plant producing steam for heat and electricity.
At the intersection of the UARD's desire to showcase the most cutting edge ideas and UH's ability to fuel expansion are plans to build a district-wide source of power that would either draw from a renewable resource (geothermal) or stay the conventional (fossil fuel) course. The hospital system is considering adding a second source of power to supplement its existing plant, which is currently the second largest (point-source) emitter of carbon dioxide in Cuyahoga County, say sources familiar with the plant.
"With the region's air quality concerns, I doubt (UH) would get the permit to build another (coal-burning) power plant," Cleveland Foundation energy expert Richard Stuebi commented.
Wolf's company installs geothermal systems similar to those recently built by local companies for Cleveland State University's new administrative building on Euclid Avenue at E. 24th Street, under Beachwood City Hall, and at Baldwin-Wallace College. At Lubbock Christian University, a 305-ton geothermal unit-which heats and cools several buildings from water pumped through pipes under ground where a constant temperature in the mid-fifties makes it renewable-produced 977,000 fewer tons of CO2 than a conventional system, Wolf said. A large district-wide geothermal unit will pay for itself in energy savings within seven years, even less time when compared to large, four-pipe chillers and boilers at a university or hospital campus, adds Stuebi.
Ronayne and Case's chief architect and planner, Margaret Carney, expressed interest in a geothermal system for UARD, and requested a follow-up meeting with Wolf and UH officials.
Can geothermal work in a neighborhood setting like St. Luke's that has both mixed-use and single-family residences? NPI executive director Eric Hoddersen asked. Mixed-use buildings can use geothermal units to transfer warm air from a stuffy office full of people to an apartment dweller who's feeling a little chilly, Wolf says. One of EnLink's patents is a geothermal system with individual meters to measure consumption on per user basis.
"We're working on a proposal with Delta Electric Co-op to find a city that wants (a geothermal system) to be part of an unregulated utility," Wolf says.
It brings to mind the city of Cleveland's interest in building a new co-generation plant, Cleveland Public Power's interest in advanced energy, and even the benefits to large investor-owned utilities such as FirstEnergy as it seeks to reduce its peak demand.
District-wide geothermal usually require easements to run pipes under roads, but they are "modular", Wolf says, meaning, buildings can be added on to an existing system by drilling new wells. Of course, drilling wells and laying pipe is the most expensive part-costing an estimated $15 per foot (most wells have 200-300 holes that go an average of 300 feet deep). The second most expensive part is running the electric pump to move the water, an estimated $0.46 per hour at current electric rates here. One drawback at existing sites in dense urban areas without parking is the rigs are too big to get inside a building ? a question that developer Rick Maron asked.
Other benefits to geothermal include reducing the size of chiller & boilers, eliminating the need for chemical cleaners for conventional HVAC units, removing those units from building rooftops, which reduces weather exposure and improves aesthetics, Stuebi says.
The Cleveland Foundation is exploring the potential for district-wide geothermal for the four LEED-ND pilot projects in Northeast Ohio, says Lillian Kuri, the foundation's special projects coordinator. Kuri is personally managing Upper Chester and St. Luke's LEED-ND certification, and adds that the University Arts and Retail District is included in the planning and resource sharing of the LEED-ND projects.