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Ball State taps into geothermal power, unlocking low-cost, clean energy

By District Energy posted 10-17-2023 15:21


The Herald Bulletin


A viable answer to the question of how to tap an abundant source of clean power without incurring exorbitant costs lies about 500 feet underground, according to officials at Ball State University.
Geothermal power — converting steam from hot, porous rocks below the earth’s surface and using it to power generators — currently comprises less than 0.5% of the nation’s electricity.

But, 11 years after bringing the nation’s largest closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling system online, the university has trimmed its carbon emissions nearly in half and remains on course for complete carbon neutrality by 2030, according to Jim Lowe, Ball State’s associate vice president for facilities planning and management.

“I don’t think there’s any obstacles to designing and installing a system,” Lowe said as he stood outside one of two energy centers on campus that house heat pump chillers designed to circulate water through the system. “There are no barriers to it. It’s, where do you find funding sources?”

In Ball State’s case, the $83 million needed to cover the costs of the project came from state appropriations and federal grants. Lowe sees that as a worthwhile investment given the dividends the project has already provided. In addition to cutting the university’s carbon footprint in half, the project has yielded nearly $2 million in annual savings for its energy budget.

Those benefits — both financial and environmental — underscore geothermal power’s potential to transform both economies and legislative policy, advocates say.

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