Grant brings Stone Center improvements

SIU President Glenn Poshard’s office will soon be a lot more efficient.

A $50,000 GeoAlliance grant will help pay for the installation of a geothermal heat pump and cooling system at the Stone Center, which houses Poshard’s office, a conference center and other staff offices.

The grant, which was funded by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and administered by the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, encourages the use of clean and efficient geothermal systems to heat and cool not-for-profit and public facilities that receive electric service from Illinois electric cooperatives.

Before the project, the Stone Center used more than twice the energy per square foot of a typical U.S. office building, said Justin Harrell, an engineer

at the physical plant who was the grant’s principal investigator. Now the building uses 75 percent of that amount, which amounts to a 63 percent energy use reduction, Harrell said.

“The grant was essential to the project,” Harrell said. “In fact, it was the availability of the grant that caused us to look for suitable locations for a project. The Stone Center stood out as a great candidate because of the high energy cost, old equipment and access to land for the well field.”

The center has had the same heating and cooling distribution system since it was built in the late 1960s, Harrell said.

Harrell said thermostats in each room have controlled whether hot or cold air is supplied to them. The hot duct was heated by hot water, which was produced by a natural gas fire boiler in the building. Harrell said the old system was not controlled well and wasted energy.

The project replaced all of this equipment with two large geothermal heat pumps with one dedicated to the cold duct and one dedicated to the hot one. The new pumps are fueled by the earth’s natural energy.

Harrell said the the St. Louis Chapter of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers awarded the project first place in 2011 for use of alternative or renewable energy technology.

“It was the combination of the high-efficiency geothermal system and a new digital control system that made this project a success,” Harrell said. “Energy costs have been reduced by 42 percent. The difference is due to the fact that the heating system now uses electricity rather than natural gas, which is less expensive per unit energy.”

Nancy McDonald, marketing administrator for the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, said the geothermal system is estimated to save the university nearly $14,400 monthly when compared to an alternative fossil fuel heating and cooling system.

McDonald said the system is also providing improved comfort to the building because it is quieter and more consistent.

Dennis O’Brien, of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, said the university will benefit from lower maintenance costs and reduced energy use, which will lead to less pollution.

“The ICECF appreciates the leadership of the AIEC and Southern Illinois University Carbondale on this effort,” he said. “Organizations like Southern Illinois University can offer their peers, and the wider

commercial sector, proof of the energy and maintenance savings during a building’s lifecycle. These benefits far outweigh the initial capital investment for installing a geothermal system.”

The grant was important for the university because of its current economic situation, said Bryce Cramer, services manager of Egyptian Electric Cooperative in Murphysboro.

“With the fiscal constraints the state of Illinois is experiencing, additional funding for capital projects is important and many times is the difference between not doing the project and being able to move forward,” he said. “This project will be an example to the private sector that geothermal heating and cooling is an affordable, economical, efficient and comfortable choice when considering retrofit and upgrades of existing systems.”

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