Miami University's geothermal energy investment improving sustainability, lowering costs

Miami University's geothermal energy investment improving sustainability, lowering costs (WKRC/Scott Dimmich)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - "If you gave me a dollar and you gave me $6 back, would you take that deal? That's the kind of efficiency gain we get with geothermal," said Doug Hammerle, Director of Energy Systems at Miami University.

Since 2012, Miami University has been working to install green energy systems and improve sustainability while revitalizing their campus. Geothermal wellfields and coils of piping under Western campus ponds harness energy from the Earth and ponds to heat and cool nearby dorms.

Hammerle said, "I don't know of any wellfield that is below a pond that has ever been done. I can tell you I've been very pleased with the performance of that wellfield. It's been in operation over two years, and it hardly fluculates in temperature at all."

Miami University also takes condensate from campus air conditioning systems into the mix.

"But we also took it a step farther. We actually said, 'What about the condensation off of the cooling coils in the middle of the summer. We collect that too, and we put it into the ponds."

Water is also collected from the roofs of Western dorms and brought to the ponds by gutters and downspouts. Water from the pond isn't just essential for geothermal; it's used to irrigate nearby athletic fields and control the flow of stormwater.

Hammerle explained, "The great thing about precipitation and rainfall is it helps keep the ponds full. With a 25 acre watershed that the ponds were built around, that was part of that stormwater management plan with kind of coupled ourselves with."

While the science of geothermal engineering beyond collecting stormwater from a roof and bringing it down a gutter gets pretty complex, the cost savings are a lot easier to understand. The university's goal is to be a 40% geothermal-powered institution by 2025.

"Long term, we can get net zero. Think about it: a solar field that can power up all of this. We wouldn't have any carbon emissions. That's good for the environment and good for the university because our costs would go down, too," said Hammerle.