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Down to Earth: Ohio’s Geothermal Energy Innovation

21 Nov 2019, Posted in All Posts, Blog Posts

Miami University, a public research university located in the small city of Oxford, OH, has been making unprecedented progress in the field of geothermal energy. Up until 2010, Miami had relied on carbon-intensive steam to heat almost all buildings on its 2,100 acre campus. Currently, 49 percent of those buildings are heated by steam. This significant decrease in steam reliance has been due in part to the current Director of Energy Systems, Doug Hammerle, who was appointed in 2012. Director Hammerle has made substantial strides on the front of geothermal energy, and the Miami University plant is currently the largest among all Ohio universities

Presently, Miami’s geothermal plant services a dining hall and three residence halls. In the basement of these halls, circulation pumps propel water through tubing in 315 wells that are each 600 feet deep located in proximity to these buildings. Since the earth surrounding the wells maintains an almost-constant temperature of 55°F, the system requires a small amount of energy for the heat pump chillers to produce the water temperature required to heat and cool these buildings adequately. According to Director Hammerele, the basic functions of these wells in summer mode includes extracting heat from theses buildings and allowing the heat to transfer to the cooler ground. The converse occurs in the winter where heat is pulled from the ground and transferred to the colder buildings. 

By 2026, almost all of Miami’s buildings will be heated and cooled by geothermal energy, Simultaneous Heat and Cooling or HHW. According to Director Hammerle, the wells can be expected to last 80-100 years with low maintenance. In addition to the sustainability aspect of geothermal energy, the practice is more cost-effective due to both the efficiency rate and high reliability of the system. When comparing a closed geothermal system with chilling towers & steam heating, the likelihood of bacterial contamination and water evaporation significantly decreases, reducing overall expenditures. Overall, the geothermal plant has drastically reduced Miami’s water & chemical consumption, and will continue to as the program expands.

While Miami remains the leading manufacturer of geothermal energy of all universities/colleges in Ohio, Indiana’s Ball State maintains one of the nation’s largest geothermal energy systems.

Presently, the future of geothermal energy in Ohio, and in the rest of the United States, is uncertain. One caveat to geothermal energy is the freezing point of soil. In Ohio, anything below 32 inches into the ground will not freeze–but that depth is not universally applicable, and could pose a barrier to the installation of geothermal wells. Additionally, geothermal plants are multi-million dollar investments that only pay off in time. While there are stipulations to consider regarding geothermal systems, they are due to increase in popularity as universities opt for green-energy alternatives. Geothermal energy is expected to proliferate the world’s market at a rapid pace, with both environmental and economic benefits.

By Blair Hassett, Policy Intern

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