Geothermal heat pumps use the thermal properties of subsurface rock to help heat and cool buildings, and when powered by solar, they eliminate the use of fossil fuels. While geothermal is becoming the new clean heating and cooling system for residential use, they can also be used in commercial or community installations. At the University of California Berkeley, a team of engineers has been digging a massive hole eight inches wide and 400 feet deep in order to study the properties of the bedrock to see if it’s a good candidate for a geothermal heat pump system. If so, the clean energy system would help push UC Berkeley closer to energy goal of moving off of all fossil fuels by 2030.
“Nobody has ever drilled this deep beneath the campus,” said Kenichi Soga, the Chancellor’s Professor and Donald H. McLaughlin Chair in Mineral Engineering at UC Berkeley. “Most of the boreholes that we have on campus are used for designing new buildings and typically only go down to 60 or 80 feet. Now, we’re going to 400 feet. It’s going to let us see what is happening at that depth and better understand the possibility of using geothermal heat pumps on campus.”
The campus is currently heated with steam and electricity from its 30-plus year old on-campus natural gas-fired cogeneration plant that serves over 100 buildings and 12 million square feet.
While the cogeneration plant is nearing the end of its life and will need to be replaced, it is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, responsible for 71% of the 190,00 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent produced by the campus every year. If the school turns to geothermal for all of its heating and cooling needs, Berkeley will be the first University of California campus to achieve on-site zero-carbon energy goals and meet the State’s intent to get large emitters to reduce emissions to levels below Cap-and-Trade thresholds, according to the Berkeley Clean Energy.