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Geothermal Energy

Research campuses can take advantage of geothermal resources for low-cost heating. The associated maintenance costs will remain low.

The following links go to sections that describe how examining geothermal energy may fit into your climate action plans.

Campus Geothermal Energy Options

Campuses can use geothermal energy in two primary ways:

  • Direct heating: In areas with moderate geothermal resources—temperatures greater than 200°F—campus facilities can pump hot water from the ground to heat conditioned space in buildings and domestic hot water.

  • Electricity: Campuses in areas with high-quality geothermal resources—temperatures greater than 300°F—can potentially use this energy to generate electricity.

Campus Solar Thermal Considerations

Is geothermal energy right for your campus?
  • Are good geothermal resources nearby?
  • Do you have large heating requirements?
  • Do you have high fuel costs?
  • Is land available for wells?

Research campuses should consider the following before undertaking an assessment or geothermal energy installation.

Geothermal Resources

Several organizations and agencies, including the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), have produced maps and databases of geothermal resources. DOE's geothermal resource map shows a general indicator of geothermal electrical generation potential.

Another geothermal resource map location is provided for several states through the Idaho National Laboratory. The DOE and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have compiled geothermal energy resource potential mapping for many if the western U.S. tribal lands the Geothermal Energy Resources map.

For direct-heating project potential, proximity to hot springs is one of the best indicators of near-surface geothermal resources. The National Geophysical Data Center provides a virtual map of hot springs, and the Geo-Heat Center provides maps of hot springs and thermal projects.

Large Heating Needs

Geothermal water heating systems, which require significant capital investment, are more likely to be cost effective in areas with high heating energy requirements.

High Fuel Costs

Geothermal heating is more likely to be cost effective where inexpensive natural gas is not available.

Land Availability

Geothermal electricity generation and direct heating systems may require significant open space for wells. That land may be unavailable for several months while wells are drilled. Research campuses need to evaluate land availability and use during the assessment process.

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Leading Example: Oregon Institute of Technology Geothermal Heating Project

Photo of a pond shrouded in fog with mist icing on trees in the foreground.

The geothermal energy system at the Oregon Institute of Technology provides energy to heat conditioned space and domestic hot water for 11 buildings, cool 5 buildings, and melt snow on 2300 square feet of sidewalks.
Credit: Mary Smothers, Oregon Institute of Technology

The Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in Klamath Falls, Oregon, has used direct geothermal heating for 50 years and has thoroughly documented system performance. The campus draws 190°F-water from 1,800-foot deep wells to heat 600,000 gross square feet of building space. The geothermal heating system saves the university more than $225,000 per year compared with the cost of previously operating a boiler on fuel oil.

OIT is expanding its geothermal energy use to develop approximately 800 kilowatts (kW) of net electrical generation, which meets most of the campus's electricity demand. Additional information is available from the Campus Geothermal Projects Update.

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Here you will find links to online resources that explain technology basics and link to industry resources.

Technology Basics

The following Web sites explain the fundamentals of geothermal energy technologies. Some of the following documents are viewable as Adobe PDFs. Download Adobe Reader.

  • Geothermal Basics: DOE explains the fundamentals of geothermal technologies.

  • DOE Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: DOE published a report titled, Geothermal Technologies Program: Direct Use. This document provides information about direct use of geothermal energy.

  • DOE Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy: DOE published a report titled, Geothermal Tomorrow 2008. This document presents a good overview of successful geothermal projects across the United States.

  • Geothermal Resources and Technologies: This technology overview for federal facility managers is published by the DOE Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). It includes scoping questions for federal facilities that are considering geothermal energy installations.

Industry Resources

Detailed information about geothermal energy technologies is available through these organizations.

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