West Chester University will use a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to expand its geothermal energy system. The school will use the money to convert three buildings from primarily coal-burning heat to geothermal.
The university already uses geothermal energy to heat and cool 15 of its buildings through a large network of wells beneath parking lots and green spaces. In the winter, warm water from under the Earth’s surface travels though pipes to heat academic and apartment buildings. In the summer, that water carries heat away from buildings and back underground.
Facilities director Greg Cuprak says the money from the federal government will allow the campus to move forward with its renovation projects faster than previously anticipated, a good thing for both the bottom line and the carbon footprint of the university.
The “advantage with geothermal is that it’s one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat and cool a building,” Cuprak said. “We’ll have to use less energy which will help greatly reduce our carbon usage.”
Cuprak says geothermal energy on campuses can be especially useful because, unlike in a single well system for a home, a central geothermal system allows energy to be moved from building to building.
“I can be having classroom buildings which have a lot of people in them which are generating heat,” Cuprak said. “And that heat can be extracted out of those classrooms and sent over to the dorm buildings.”
A university representative said the conversion of the three buildings will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 4.7 million pounds a year. By the time its 10-year geothermal project is complete, the university estimates it will reduce campus heating costs by 40 percent.