Grabbing energy from the ground

The geothermal unit Published August 10, 2023

At College of Lake County (CLC), sustainability efforts go deep in the earth and into the community. The college’s use of a geothermal heat exchange system not only reduces the need for fossil fuels, but it drastically cuts the cost of heating and cooling.

Geothermal heating and cooling works through heat transfer. For heating, heat is drawn from the ground and transferred into the home or other building through pipes. For cooling, heat is pulled from the air and moved into the ground.

CLC hosted Citizens Utility Board on July 25 for a talk about the benefits of geothermal with community members. Citizens United Board is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents the interests of residential utility customers across the state. John Freitag, executive director of the Geothermal Alliance of Illinois, spoke to Lake County residents about the benefits and costs of geothermal energy.

“Geothermal is the best way we can wean ourselves off fossil fuels in the residential sector,” Freitag said. “Geothermal is the greenest heating-cooling technology known today by far, with efficiencies up to 600%. This is possible because we don’t burn fuels for heating and cooling, we just move the earth’s natural energy by pumping water and blowing air.”

Because of the high need for both heating and cooling throughout the year combined with the region’s ideal ground temperature, Illinois is the perfect place for geothermal use, according to Freitag.

CLC has been using geothermal heating and cooling at the Grayslake Campus since 2016. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rated Science and Engineering Building has its own geothermal system, and the B, C and L wings run on a larger system.

While geothermal has a large upfront cost because of construction and digging that can make it hard to initially get into, over time, it pays back with lower operational costs. This is on top of the environmental positives of not burning fossil fuels for heating and cooling.

CLC’s geothermal system is designed to have 95% efficiency, meaning it is designed to power 95% of the heating and cooling, but it works at about 99% efficiency.

“It's always good to know about alternatives,” said Executive Director of the Illinois Green Economy Network David Husemoller. “If you have the funding and can invest in geothermal, it will pay off. It may not be right for everybody, but there are folks out there that it could be right for it. And it can be really beneficial.”