Use deep geothermal for heat and cool buildings

You might not realize it, but beneath our feet lies a source of heat that can be tapped to provide heating and cooling to both residential and commercial buildings, replacing current, large-scale systems with a renewable and domestically sourced energy. The application, Deep Direct-Use (DDU), is an emerging technology that has been underutilized in the U.S., and if feasible, could result in greater opportunities for geothermal resource development and high energy cost savings throughout the country.

How it Works

DDU applications can be deployed between 100°F and 300°F—but at a larger scale. Using relatively low-temperature, direct geothermal energy has the potential to diversify the nation’s energy supply and reduce heating and cooling costs. DDU applications can potentially be used to replace conventional district heating and cooling systems for large energy end-users, such as hospital complexes, university campuses, and military installations.

Although direct-use technologies are the oldest, most versatile, and most prevalent form of geothermal energy, deep direct-use systems have not been developed in the U.S. because of technical, cost, and institutional barriers. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is presently working to help unlock these geothermal applications for near-term deployment.

What’s Next

One exciting example of DDU technology advancement is taking place in West Virginia where researchers are evaluating the feasibility of harvesting heat from geothermal resources and using it directly to heat or cool buildings. West Virginia University (WVU), one of six DOE awardees selected in 2017 to work on DDU technology, is evaluating the feasibility of creating the first geothermal direct-use heating and cooling system in the Eastern U.S. This system could sustainably heat and cool up to 250 buildings on nearly 2,000 acres of the campus, an estimated savings of up to $1 million annually in heating and cooling costs.


WVU Energy Institute geothermal DDU feasibility study.

In partnership with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey, and Cornell University, WVU will analyze the geological resources around the Morgantown campus. Over the next two years, these partners will develop a design model and optimization of the full geothermal direct-use system.

The efforts will benchmark the feasibility of applying deep direct-use systems nationally. DOE is committed to supporting the research and development of deep direct-use geothermal applications—expanding geothermal geographic potential, reducing heating and cooling costs, and increasing U.S. domestically sourced geothermal energy supply.

Stay tuned for highlights from additional DDU awardees.

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