GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KREX) — As opposed to the traditional gas and electric boilers, CMU’s ground source heat pump system takes advantage of an abundant resource, the earth’s natural heat. But how exactly does it work? Keegan Pfeiffer, the manager of energy at CMU tells me the ground source heat pump system uses the earth’s natural heating properties along with the sun to gather heated air underground. It then uses a pump to push that hot air into a building in winter and suck that warm air out in the summer.
“It’s kind of like a thermal piggy bank. So, in the summertime, you take the waste heat out and put it into the bank, and in the wintertime, you take that heat and put it back into the building,” Pfeiffer tells me.
Now, the ground source heat pump isn’t new, but where CMU got truly innovative is its interconnected grid system. The grid allows CMU’s heat pump to simultaneously warm up 16 buildings. This is what they call their geothermal grid. And since the primary heating source is the sun, CMU can heat classrooms and dorms while cutting its carbon footprint by more than 10 thousand metric tons per year. According to Pfeiffer, “We don’t rely as heavily on our fossil fuels as some of our traditional systems may.”
So, what’s the catch? Well, the upfront cost of a system like this is heftier than traditional alternatives. “That’s one thing that may turn some people off at first is the initial upfront cost to install a system like this,” Pfeiffer mentioned. But maintenance for a geothermal grid isn’t as costly and since there isn’t a constant need to buy loads of fuel the yearly cost is actually lower in the long run. And thanks to the interconnectivity of the design, adding more buildings, like CMU’s new dorms, will be even cheaper.
For CMU, the higher initial price is worth all the long-term benefits. Other companies and universities are taking notice, just ask Zeyneb Magavi, co-executive director of the home energy efficiency team, or HEET, from Boston Massachusetts who commented, “What Colorado Mesa has done here with their energy system is really leading the world.” Magavi and her team have been studying and implementing the design of CMU’s geothermal grid in their home state for some years now. As a matter of fact, groups all over the country are starting to use the same kind of grid CMU started, not just on university campuses, but also in entire neighborhoods and cities. Magavi even predicts, “This technology that’s here at Colorado Mesa, it might be the way we heat and cool our homes by 2050.”
This greener, more efficient, and cost-effective way of heating and cooling may just take the world by storm, and when it does CMU will be right there in the eye of progress standing as the institution behind the innovation.