Smith College will break ground in May on a geothermal campus energy project that will lower the college’s carbon emissions by 90%, allowing Smith to become carbon neutral by 2030. The project will replace the college’s aging, fossil-fuel-fired steam heating system with a state-of-the-art, electrically powered geothermal system. This will make Smith one of only a handful of schools in the nation to achieve net-zero carbon emissions through the near elimination of on-campus fossil fuel combustion rather than through other means, such as carbon offsets or biofuel conversion.
Smith first began using geothermal energy in 2019, when the college undertook a pilot project that involved heating and cooling the college’s field house, during which the school explained that “geothermal technology works by harnessing the stable temperatures found below the Earth’s surface and is considered a renewable resource by the US Environmental Protection Agency. At about 1,000 feet down, the temperature is typically 54 degrees Fahrenheit. A heat pump will be installed in the basement of the Field House to convert this lower temperature energy source into the warmer temperatures we are accustomed to inside buildings.”
Smith will use a geothermal heat-exchange system powered by renewable electricity to replace the combustion of fossil fuels for heating. This technology transfers temperatures from the ground to an energy plant and then on to individual buildings for heating and cooling. In addition to dramatically reducing the college’s carbon emissions, the project will reduce water consumption by more than 10%, improve local air quality, add cooling to enhance building comfort, and lower the college’s operating costs.
Construction of Smith’s geothermal system will begin this summer and be implemented in three phases over the next six years. The total project cost is $210 million, to be funded largely through proceeds from recent debt issuances. The project will produce operating cost savings when the system is fully online. The college announced its divestment from fossil fuels in 2018, and 30% of campus electricity comes from an innovative solar collaboration that went online in Maine in 2021.
Other universities making sustainable changes to their campuses include the University of Central Florida (UCF) with the opening of its new Microgrid Control Lab, which will serve as a state-of-the-art research facility and control room for engineering faculty and students.