A few months ago, I heard about the largest geothermal heat pump installation was breaking ground at Ball State University. Clearly, this is amazing project that could change the whole industry. Also, I always noticed PR for huge solar PV projects and knew that we needed to get out the world about ground source. So, I wrote an article in Climate Progress about the project.
Jo Ann Gora, the president of Ball State University, reached out to Joe Romm, the editor of Climate Progress to thank him for the piece and he forward it to me.
I reached out Ms. Gora wanting to understand more intimately how the decisions was made within Ball State to under take such a large project that a huge accomplishment on so many levels. I wanted to learn a few things
I wanted to understand their buying process and internal decision making. As an industry, if we can start to understand how large institutions, like Ball State, invest ~60 million dollars into geothermal, we’ll be able to sell more projects.
I wanted to understand if there were any issues that almost killed the project within Ball State.
Lastly, I wanted to learn what they learned about the technology and if there were any technical bottlenecks that almost killed the project.
I spoke with Ms. Gora for about 20 minutes, I also spoke with Jim Lowe who is the Director of Enginneering, Construction and Operations at Ball State.
Here’s my conversation with Ms. Gora
Q: What was the inspiration behind the project? Was someone pushing it within the university or was it advised to your by an outside engineering firm?
A: It’s a really great story. In December of 2005, our board approved the purchased of boiler equipment and to sell bonds to finance the project. So, we were going with a traditional system and we had received authority to release bonds to replace our existing equipment.
We were going down this route and what we discovered, when we completed the sale of the bond, 2 years later, is that prices for the original equipment had gone through the roof. We no longer had enough money. Also, due to the size of the project, we were going to have to buy the parts from outside the US. We were getting a hard time getting bids and we didn’t think we could get a competitive price. So, it forced us to ask ourselves if there was alternative and better way.
We’re a university and we figured we’re going to be around for another 100 years, so we started talking to a lot of people about alternatives, something that would be really sustainable.
Being aware that fuel prices are volatile, that the push for energy efficiency was really, and not liking the idea of spending the money outside of the US, we started asking ourselves internally if there is a better way.
We turned to our Senator, and he arranged a call with NREL and Oakridge Laboratory and they put us in touch with top geothermal experts. They told us that only recently had the technology matured to a point where you could heat and cooling many buildings, and not just one.