Geothermal Energy Cuts University's Costs

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"After one month, Salisbury University experienced a 60% energy cost reduction."

Salisbury University is using the Earth's natural thermal energy to heat and cool its residence halls. In the process, students are engaged in a true "living-learning" experience—and the campus is saving money.

As part of a $6 million renovation for the 46-year-old Manokin Residence Hall, SU recently installed its first geothermal heating and cooling system. Among those who reside in the facility are first-year students in a Living-Learning Community dedicated to sustainability. Dubbed the "Green Floor," they also take classes there.

Among the first campuses in the University System of Maryland to install geothermal, SU designed the system with Easton-based Gipe Associates. Project manager Adam Kegan recently taught students about the way it functions.

The process is relatively simple: 90 wells were drilled 300 feet below the surface of the Holloway Hall parking lot. They were connected by heat exchangers to a geothermal pump system inside Manokin. In the summer, heat is sent into the ground to cool the facility, and in the winter, it's drawn from the ground for warmth.

"We've never had two buildings that were so similar in size, orientation, usage and occupancy to evaluate," Kegan said. "This will give us real-world data on the performance of the two different systems."

In just the first month, SU saved $2,046.02, a 60% reduction in energy costs in Manokin, as compared to Pocomoke, due mainly to reduced electricity costs. The electricity is only used to collect and deliver heat, not to produce it. Also eliminated is the expense of natural gas to heat hot water.

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