Cal Berkeley testing Geothermal wells to replace fossil-fired CHP system on campus

April 8, 2022
The engineers will first study the geological conditions below to determine the feasibility of establishing the system

The University of California, Berkeley has drilled a borehole, extending upto 400ft below ground to evaluate the feasibility of replacing its 40-year-old cogeneration system with a geothermal heat pump system for the heating and cooling requirements of the buildings.

The plan is part of its Clean Energy Campus Initiative. The engineers will first study the geological conditions below to determine the feasibility of establishing the system. Instruments donated by the Berkeley Lab, including a geothermal heat loop, will be used to evaluate the conditions.

Taka’aki Taira, a research seismologist at the Berkeley Seismology Lab, will install a geophone, which will measure seismic activity and data from the device will be used to monitor micro-earthquake activity near the campus.

“We need to replace this cogeneration plant because its useful life is almost over, and we want to pivot and build something for the future,” Kira Stoll, Chief Sustainability and Carbon Solutions Officer at UC Berkeley, said. “Our goal is to have the campus transition to using 100% clean energy to heat and cool our buildings by 2028. I’m looking forward to finding whether we do have geothermal potential on the campus and whether we can integrate that into our plans to make a very efficient clean energy system.”

The primary support for this borehole was provided by The Green Initiative Fund, funded by UC Berkeley student fees.

“Designing geothermal systems correctly is very important for reducing costs and ensuring their overall effectiveness,” said Peter Nico, Soil and Environmental Biogeochemist and Acting Division Director for the Energy Geosciences Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

Rock and soil can absorb and store more heat energy without allowing it to diffuse. Geothermal heat pumps are designed to pump excess heat underground into boreholes for storage.

The data from this borehole will be used to build a ‘digital twin’ campus heating system so simulations can be run in order to develop the most efficient model for the new system.

The research could determine whether a centralized field of ground source heat pumps or boreholes at discrete locations on the campus will better serve the purpose.

Additionally, this research project will help train undergraduate and graduate students on designing and implementing these systems. They will also be able to learn how different technologies can be used together to decarbonize energy needs.