The Sustainable Campus (Trends and Innovations)

From the Ground Up

Monroe County Community College (MCCC) in Michigan has switched over from an outdated, conventional HVAC system to a much more energy-efficient and earth-friendly geothermal-based system.

Installation of the new system took over two years at a cost of $16.1 million, which the college financed over 20 years. The project has completely transformed the way MCCC heats and cools most of its buildings on its Main Campus, while providing major cost and environmental benefits.

Expected Cost Savings

The geothermal-based system will result in significant energy cost savings for MCCC, has a 50-year lifespan on its well field that is double that of a conventional system, and will greatly reduce the college’s carbon footprint. Ameresco, Inc., a leading energy efficiency and renewable energy services provider, was the engineer and general contractor for the project.

Five Main Campus buildings — the Warrick Student Services/Administration Building, Life Sciences Building, Campbell Learning Resources Center and East and West Technology buildings, which were all built in the late 1960s or early 1970s — are now being served by the new geothermal-based system.

The La-Z-Boy Center and Gerald Welch Health Education Building, which were built more recently — in 2004 and 1996, respectively — have conventional HVAC systems with time left on their lifespans; they will be added to the geothermal-based system once their current systems are in need of replacement. The Career Technology Center, built in 2013, already has its own geothermal-based HVAC system.

How It Works

Geothermal-based HVAC brings the buildings into harmony with the earth beneath by taking advantage of subterranean temperatures to provide heating in colder-weather months and cooling in warmer-weather months, says Jack Burns, director of Campus Planning and Facilities at MCCC, who oversaw the project. Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons; however, underground temperatures do not change as dramatically because of the insulating properties of the earth, he says. MCCC’s new system uses a buried system of pipes, also known as an earth or distribution loop, to capitalize on these constant temperatures to provide “free” energy to the buildings.

“Essentially, we are using water that has been heated or cooled by the earth’s energy to a temperature that requires less additional energy to heat or cool it to acquire specific comfort levels, depending on the season,” Burns says.

The well field that supplies the distribution loop is comprised of 288 wells that are 350-400 feet deep, Burns says. The rectangular field sits on a three-acre piece of land that is located on the extreme southeast portion of MCCC’s Main Campus. MCCC’s system is a closedloop system that does not pump any ground water in or out, Burns indicates; rather, it was supplied by 10,000 gallons of water that were pumped in from the college’s connection to the city water system.

Long-Term Benefits

Through its contract with Ameresco, the college is guaranteed to reduce its previous yearly energy consumption by about 160,000 kWh annually. It is also guaranteed to save about $5.55 million in electricity, gas and water costs over the next 20 years, or an average of $275,000 per year.

But the system will likely save far more than that, according to Suzanne Wetzel, MCCC’s vice president of administration.

“We fully anticipate that our energy savings will surpass the $5.55 million over 20 years that Ameresco has guaranteed,” she says.

In addition to the cost savings of the geothermal system and its long life-cycle, it provides substantial environmental benefits. According to Ameresco, MCCC will reduce its carbon emissions by 1,068 metric tons per year. Based on the EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator, the annual green benefit from this reduction each year is equal to: 2.6 million road miles driven by an average passenger vehicle, 120,176 gallons of gasoline consumed, 1.14 million pounds of coal burned, 113 homes’ energy use for one year, 27,678 tree seedlings grown and 1,011 acres of U.S. forests.

“This was an investment in the present and future of MCCC,” says Lynette Dowler, chair of MCCC’s Board of Trustees. It will serve us well environmentally and financially for many years to come.”

“This geothermal asset has a 50-year lifespan on its well field; a conventional upgrade would have lasted less than half that,” says MCCC President Dr. Kojo A. Quartey. “Going geothermal will lower our annual energy costs, save us additional money far into the future because of its long system lifespan, and reduce our carbon footprint year after year. It’s a win-win-win for our college and community now and for many decades to come.”

This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Joe Verkennes is director of Marketing and Communications for Monroe County Community College. He can be reached at jverkennes@monroeccc.edu.

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