Gallery: An Inside Look at the Geothermal System in New York’s Center f...

Photo by Bea Arthur. Used under Wiki Commons.

As you know, Inhabitat was super busy over the weekend covering the most exciting events during the Festival of Ideas. We had a chance to listen to an inspiring panel of green mayors and we were on the scene for the inauguration of the Bowery Mission’s rooftop farm. One of the most interesting and informative events took place at The Center for Architecture, where we had the pleasure of taking a tour of the building’s awesome geothermal system. Hit the jump to see the system and learn about the Center’s ideas about the future of green energy in New York City.

Thanks in large part to NYC and the New York State Energy Research Center and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Center for Architecture is the region’s first building open to the general public that uses geothermal technology as a source of energy. The geothermal system itself cost $100,000, largely offset by a grant from NYSERDA. This comes as no surprise, since NYSERDA is also offering grants for the development of solar thermal energy, in an effort to encourage New Yorkers to swap electric hot water energy for solar-powered systems.

The center’s geothermal system has two wells each containing 55ºF water that provides “an energy saving boost for the heat-exchange method” in the cooling and heating modes. These two wells are in fact, surprisingly deep, burrowing into 1260 feet of bedrock – about the size of the Empire State Building. Heat pumps use this geothermal environment as a reservoir where heat is effectively extracted in the winter, and then transferred back in the summer. This is far more efficient than using a conventional air exchange system.

Water moves cyclically at the bottom of the well, where it’s drawn through intake holes into a PVC “straw” or cylinder. A small pump inside the PVC “straw,” surrounds a steel casing above the bedrock, and moves the water to the heat exchanger unit, which are located in the mechanical room of the center. The heat exchanger unit, depending on whether it’s healing or cooling, either extracts the heat or transfers it to the well water. The heat is exchanged in a secondary “house” water loop.

This heated or cooled “house” water, then circulates to nine heat pumps located in the mechanical rooms throughout the center. The pumps also control a refrigeration cycle that heats or cools the water in the space. The house water will then return to the heat exchanger, where the cycle continues over and over again from there. Once the well water flows through the heat exchanger, it then goes back to the well, and loses or regains heat energy along the way, in order to regulate the starting 55ºF temperature.

There are a ton of benefits in using geothermal energy. For one thing, a geothermal system does not produce any significant emissions and does not consume any fuel. It’s also clean and generally safe as compared to other sources of energy and more cost effective as well. The US Department of Energy reports that, “on average, a geothermal heat pump system costs about $2,500 per ton of capacity, or roughly $7,500 for a 3-ton unit (typical residential size).” Most importantly, it offers a more sustainable and less environmentally damaging alternative to other sources of energy such as fuel or coal.

The Center’s geothermal system also consumes over 30 percent less than a conventional air cool condenser system. Given that cities are also known for water towers on the roof, the use of a geothermal system does not require any exterior equipment on the buildings. In fact, it can be retrofitted into the existing building. Although initial installation costs are certainly higher than an air conditioning system, the Center for Architecture estimates that the geothermal system will pay for itself in three years.

Needless to say, the tour was not only very informative, but also provided a cool glimpse at the what future of what renewable energy could be in New York City. We hope that with the current green initiatives, and projects such as the geothermal system at the Center for Architecture, New York City will no doubt be a huge hub of alternative energy and sustainable design.

+ The Center for Architecture + Inhabitat’s Festival of Ideas Coverage

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