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Miramar College tests $2.2 million geothermal project

23 August 2009 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Miramar College is drilling on its campus this week to test if it can build a $2.2 million system that uses the earth’s heat to power its buildings. If the school moves forward with the plan, it will be the largest underground geothermal project in San Diego county.

“It’s sustainable and reduces our energy consumption,” said David Umstot, vice chancellor at the San Diego Community College district. “If we’re successful, it’s going to create a lot of opportunities” for other geothermal projects in Southern California.

The construction would be funded by Propositions S and N, which allow the school district to float at least $1.55 billion in bonds for renovation projects. The geothermal “wells” at Miramar College – to be part of a planned library and student resource center — would save from 30 percent to 60 percent in energy costs over the life of the buildings.

This week’s drilling is part of a feasibility study to determine how many wells it would require and if it is viable. The evaluation will be completed by mid-August and if the project is a go, the procurement process will take another six months. The buildings and heating system would be running by 2012.

How it works

The geothermal heating system works by using the earth’s energy to heat and cool buildings above ground. Hollow metal pipes sink 400 feet in the ground and loop up into a heat exchange above ground. Water that runs through the pipes are heated and cooled in the system and dispersed through pipes in the buildings in the air-conditioning and heating systems.

In San Diego, the earth’s temperature stays relatively constant at 64 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Above ground, room temperature is about 78 degrees in summer and can drop to the 50s in winter. When water passes through the pipes underground, it is cooled or heated to about 65 degrees, depending on the season.

At Miramar College, some 200 geothermal pipes, called “wells,” will go 400 feet below ground to harness the earth’s energy. (Illus courtesy SDCCD)

The water comes up and passes through a heat exchange, where water that has been circulating through the air-conditioning or heating system is cooled or heated by the new water to the ideal temperature.

The new 100,000-square-foot library building and 45,000-square-foot student center — including administration offices, a cafeteria, bookstore, and shops -would need about 200 wells total.

“If we can harness the earth’s ability to eject the heat, we are essentially getting free cooling and free heating,” said Umstot.

Why geothermal

The geothermal project is part of the college system’s overall push toward alternative energy. The San Diego Community College District, which includes Miramar College, is implementing a solar energy program across its nine campuses.

Miramar College was chosen for the geothermal project because of its relatively large campus size and drilling area, said Umstot.

Other geothermal projects in Imperial Valley use steam from the earth’s subsurface to create energy. But the Miramar project is the first to tap the earth itself for heat in San Diego County.

The method, called geothermal exchange, is common on the East Coast, where temperature variations are greater, but untapped in Southern California, where solar energy is abundant.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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