NREL, IKEA Team Up to Monitor Geothermal Energy for Commercial Buidings

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If you’ve seen a big box store or an office building under construction, you’ve likely seen a deep hole in the ground, for the parking spaces that will be underground, etc. It is not unusual to dig a lot deeper than 5 feet when building office buildings: the magic spot for ground heat exchange geothermal power.

Yet, few of these projects incorporate geothermal (or ground heat exchange) pump technology. Yet low-carbon heating and cooling using the naturally mild and stable temperatures more than 5 feet down could cut energy costs by up to half.


IKEA is working with the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado to change all that, and possibly make geothermal heat a common energy reduction technology used in more commercial buildings in the US.

To reduce energy use in all 415,000 square feet of their new two story IKEA store in Centennial, Colorado, they are drilling 130 5 ½-inch diameter holes 500 feet deep below two parking levels underneath to tap into the moderate temperatures below ground with a geothermal piping system.

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Once in operation, a liquid will run in a loop down to the moderate temperature underground and bring it back up to the store levels. When the pipes carrying the cooler liquid meet the warm air at the surface, they will cool ambient air as it is passed through, reducing temperatures naturally. When the air is cooler than the liquid, the warm air in the pipes warm the colder air.

Their new building will take advantage of the earth’s free energy-saving moderating effects on the extremes of heat and cold above-ground, but this kind of local geothermal heating and cooling is also very effective in moderating extremes in muggy climates, pulling building levels towards a comfortable middle of 50% humidity.

The relationship between the retailer and the research facility is mutually beneficial.

The data from the IKEA project will help the NREL, which has long been interested in monitoring commercial sites to develop a best practices system for evaluating commercial geothermal systems.

When Erin Anderson, the NREL’s senior geothermal analyst heard that IKEA planned a geothermal energy installation, she got in touch with the designer to see if the NREL could monitor the results, because this will help create a body of knowledge in a relatively untested field in the US to assist more commercial property owners make enrgy-smart decisions.

In return, NREL’s monitoring and data will help IKEA make decisions about adding different mixtures to the liquid, tempering the flow, adding more pumps or adding an additional cooling system to reject more heat.

Source: NREL

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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