Thursday, 20 April 2017 21:08

A Clean Way to Heat and Cool at Skidmore

[In photos: The slope behind Skidmore’s Bernhard Theater under which geothermal pipes were installed.  Levi Rogers (at left) and Paul Lundberg in one of Skidmore’s geothermal control rooms. Photos by Larry Goodwin.]

SARATOGA SPRINGS — A gentle slope on the campus of Skidmore College—one that leads down to a pond rippled by two fountains—naturally hides the evidence of previous construction.

Several years ago, contractor machines had made a mess of it by digging straight down 450 feet to install a field of five-inch-wide pipes, which supply a sophisticated geothermal heating and cooling system at the college.

The lush green grass behind the Bernhard Theater building now makes the clean-energy infrastructure impossible to see.

Last year, another large geothermal installation was completed on campus after Facilities Services crews had ripped up a portion of the Palamountain parking lot, in preparation for construction of a Center for Integrated Sciences.

“Nobody really knows what we’ve been doing here for a long time,” stated Paul Lundberg, the assistant director of Facilities Services. Lundberg is widely considered on campus to be the most enthusiastic promoter of geothermal energy projects.

Lundberg is happy to explain how “closed-loop” networks of pipes circulate famously pure local water for indoor climate control at Skidmore. The goal is to get “the best bang for your buck” in terms of energy consumption, he said.

“Geothermal heat pump installations use the constant temperature under the ground’s frost line to renewably heat and cool homes and businesses without producing greenhouse gases on site,” the New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NYGEO) states in a summary of the technology.

Lundberg admitted that he was eager to attend the NYGEO conference this week at the Radisson Hotel in Albany. In 2015, the same conference—nicknamed “Geopalooza”—was held at Skidmore College.

In 2012, a national academic association recognized Skidmore with an award for the operation of its geothermal energy system.

Before giving a brief tour of one of the system’s two main “nodes,” or control rooms, Lundberg had joined an interview with Karen Kellogg and Levi Rogers, who direct and coordinate various activities through Skidmore’s Sustainability Office.

Rogers said his office works with “a large group of people on campus” who are united in their support of Skidmore’s environmentally sustainable projects. These include the promotion of solar power, ambitious recycling and composting programs, and the annual maintenance of a thriving community garden on campus.

Many students are currently participating in Earth Week activities, which include an off-campus March for Science starting at noon on Saturday in Congress Park and a film screening about the Hudson River on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Emerson Auditorium.

Kellogg, Lundberg and Rogers sat down together outside a coffee shop on the second floor of the Case Center, as Skidmore students and faculty were socializing or studying intently nearby.

Kellogg explained that, at present, geothermal energy heats and cools nearly 40 percent of the square footage inside all of Skidmore’s buildings. That includes the Arthur Zankel Music Center, Tang Teaching Museum, the Northwoods and Sussman student apartments, and numerous other structures on campus.

More geothermal projects are being planned to increase the college’s overall energy efficiency, she said.

Lundberg described how Skidmore’s geothermal system (in scientific terms) is able to store heat energy very efficiently due to a large underground formation of Dolostone, which he called “near perfect for optimum heat exchange.”

“We’ve done our homework,” Lundberg added.

Rogers pointed out that Skidmore utilizes all of the geothermal power generated on site, which he said eliminates any need for the college to participate in complicated “renewable energy credit” markets.

“I really do think that sets us apart from other institutions,” Rogers said.

According to John Manning, a spokesman for Earth Sensitive Solutions in Skaneateles, New York, a firm that has partnered with Skidmore to install geothermal pipes, emissions of greenhouse gases are “going to be a growing concern” in the years ahead.

Manning said the New York Energy Research and Development Authority is close to finalizing economic incentives that could spur more commercial and residential projects statewide similar to those being completed at Skidmore.

“It’s good to see geothermal finally catching on,” Manning said. He called it “the best sustainable way to lower our carbon footprint.” 

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