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Geothermal micro-district projects move ahead in Massachusetts


Two pilot geothermal projects in Massachusetts are moving ahead to deploy clean heating across entire neighborhoods, Energy News Network reported today. These projects aim to slash fossil fuel use and provide economic incentives for gas utilities and their workers in the state.

Two geothermal micro-district pilot projects

One of the pilot projects will be deployed in the Merrimack Valley area by Columbia Gas. The company will fund the test project with $60 million in response to a series of gas explosions and fires in September 2018

Eversource is developing a second project. The utility plans to spend $10.3 million for constructing a district geothermal system. The Project’s area has not yet been selected; however, Eversource spokespeople said it would be in a densely populated mixed-use area.

Michael Goldman, energy efficiency director for Eversource, told ENN, “we’re really thinking about how we can be a catalyst for clean energy in the region.” The Project is expected to be operational by 2022.

Geothermal systems work by running pipes filled with antifreeze liquid 500 feet underground. In this regard, heat is extracted from the earth and then carried transported through liquid-filled pipes for heating activities. This same principle applies to cooling as well.

Furthermore, geothermal systems are among the most efficient and cleanest warming options. The only fossil fuels used in the process are those utilized to generate power.

Despite the multiple expected benefits from these projects, some experts consider using ground-source heat pumps on individual properties may have limits as a potential solution. Costs are high, and this situation poses a significant barrier to widespread adoption.

Challenges and barriers

In this sense, the micro-district concept could overcome those barriers by spreading the cost and allowing power companies to transition and shift to cleaner heating and cooling sources.

In this regard, the Home Energy Efficiency Team researched to assess the potential impact of geothermal micro-districts in Massachusetts. The resulting report found such a system would be able to meet 100% of its participants’ heating and cooling needs.

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The micro-district network should include both heating and cooling needs for buildings to make their activities more efficient. According to the report, gas utilities are already well suited to develop multi-property geothermal systems.

ENN reported the next step for both projects is to find appropriate locations. The ideal site should reunite a mix of low-income housing, market-rate housing, and various businesses, told ENN experts.

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