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Hamilton College Arrests Skyrocketing Energy Costs with Geothermal Systems

250 Percent Decrease in Energy Consumption in Skenandoa House

Posted January 18, 2006
Tags Sustainability
Hamilton College has been able to decrease its energy consumption in one of its buildings by 250 percent this year with renovations focused on employing conservation technology. Even before heating costs skyrocketed, the College was building utility systems that conserve energy and have a reduced impact on the environment. A number of projects have been completed in the past few years, and others are currently underway.

"Not only do these projects help to contain utility bills, but they also result in lower emissions of greenhouse gases," said Steve Bellona, associate vice president for facilities and planning.

Two recently renovated and expanded buildings, Skenandoa House and the Science Center include geothermal heating systems. These systems utilize the warmth of the earth to both heat and cool buildings much more efficiently than conventional furnaces or air conditioners.

The efficiency of the geothermal system is its overwhelming advantage. While conventional heating and cooling devices must convert outside temperatures to reach comfort levels, geothermal heating and cooling uses ground temperatures of around 55 degrees to help moderate the temperature differential. The process requires only electricity to run a heat pump and small circulation pumps, eliminating the use of natural gas.

In its first year of operation, the geothermal system in Skenandoa House used 250 percent less energy per gross square foot than a standard gas-fired heating system (47.6 mbtu/gsf vs. 123.2 mbtu/gsf).

Skenandoa House is powered completely by Green Power (wind, biomass, small hydro). While more expensive to purchase, green electrical power has reduced greenhouse gas production in carbon dioxide by 107.1 tons, nitrous oxide by 289.5 pounds and sulphur dioxide by 765 pounds. With LEED certification expected from USGBC in the coming weeks, Skenandoa House will be the first historic structure in New York State to be so designated.

In addition to having state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment, Hamilton's new Science Center was constructed with attention to "green" design, which included environmentally friendly processes and materials.

"While Hamilton saw an increase in our energy consumption from the expansion of the Science Center, we saw significant improvements in the efficiency of the facility over the old science facility through a 400-fold reduction in our electrical reactive loads," said Bellona.

Additional Energy Conservation measures in the new Science Center include:
  • Heat recovery system
  • Variable speed drives on motors and pumps and variable air volume system
  • High efficiency chillers
  • Occupancy sensors in labs
  • Day lighting controls in the Atrium

The installation of these systems in the Science Center was computer-modeled by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and compared to a facility without these installed upgrades. This model predicted an annual savings of 4,970,000 kilowatt hours or a reduction in carbon dioxide production of 2500 tons annually.

To compare the savings in greenhouse gases with everyday equivalents, see http://www.usctcgateway.net/tool/. Calculated reductions in greenhouse gases were based on the greenhouse calculator found at http://www.abraxasenergy.com/emissions/

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