The Use of Geothermal Energy in Commercial Buildings

Perhaps the largest energy expenditure of a commercial building comes from its HVAC or heating and cooling system. Office buildings and factories have a lot of open space, and filling this space with hot or cold air can consume a lot of energy and be expensive. One solution to this problem is harnessing the natural power of geothermal energy. As its name implies, geothermal energy is energy derived from the earth’s temperature. The idea is not a new one. From China to the Roman Empire to modern-day Iceland, humans have used geothermal energy for tens of thousands of years.

For commercial heating in today’s buildings, geothermal energy is harnessed using a system called a geothermal heat pump. The basic concept behind the geothermal heat pump is amazingly simple. Pipes are buried outside the building at a specific depth below ground to create a loop through which water or antifreeze is pumped. There are three basic types of loops: vertical, horizontal, and pond. The type used for a particular structure will depend on the terrain and available space. Most loops are constructed of polyethylene, but some are made of copper.

Because the temperature of the earth where the ground loop is buried is constant, water can be either heated or cooled by the earth depending on the needs of the building. So, when it’s cold outside, the water flowing through the ground loop is heated by the earth and that hot water heats the building. In the summer, the process is reversed. Heat is collected by the heat pumps within the building and the heated water is pumped out to the ground loop where it is cooled and returned. In this way, a geothermal heat pump system can efficiently heat and cool a building.

Though not the right choice for every building, geothermal energy systems are a great choice for office buildings, schools, and other commercial ventures. Traditionally difficult and expensive to heat and cool, these commercial spaces can find consistent and efficient heating and cooling through geothermal. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that these buildings can be built to use geothermal, or they can be retrofitted to switch to geothermal so that even older buildings can make use of this technology.

Courtesy: Geothermal International


2 Comments to “The Use of Geothermal Energy in Commercial Buildings”

  1. By Sherie Skorupski, July 21, 2011 @ 11:30 PM

    Just added you to my favorite blogs. Keep these posts coming!

  2. By Buildingwell, July 5, 2011 @ 7:30 AM

    As you mentioned, geothermal heating and cooling is available for older buildings as a retrofit. In addition to commercial buildings, multi-family housing buildings can also benefit from this technology. There are of course a number of things to consider but geothermal is certainly a great resource option.

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