Geothermal Heating at UMass Amherst: Is It Worth It?
An Economic Analysis of Geothermal Energy at UMass
Chancellor Subbaswamy has laid out an ambitious plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions for the UMass campus by the year 2030. Even though Massachusetts law only requires all state agencies to reach net-zero emissions by the year 2050, the Chancellor’s charge is in response to UMass Amherst being the largest industrial emitter in the state. After an extensive study, UMass’ Carbon Mitigation Task Force has concluded that a Geothermal Heat exchange system (GHX) will be the optimal replacement for the current Central Heating Plant (CHP).
One immediate problem with this solution is the substantial initial investment required. As such, the question arises: Is it economically and environmentally “worth it” to install this new geothermal system? After all, the carbon emissions produced by the CHP can be offset by other, potentially cheaper technologies such as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
However, CCS is still an emerging technology, and it remains uncertain what direction this technology will take in the future. Indeed, CCS has not yet been implemented by any institution of higher education, period. Furthermore, relying on CCS will not make UMass independent of fossil fuels because it relies on the CHP, which would continue to burn fossil fuels in a CCS future. In contrast, the GHX system provides a tested and reliable technology that removes UMass’ dependence on fossil fuels, though the campus would rely more on the electricity grid. In addition, a GHX system will save UMass money in the long term by minimizing the effects of the social cost of carbon while avoiding the maintenance and fuel costs of the CHP. Due to these reasons, we recommend that installing a GHX system is indeed “worth it” as the optimal solution.