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The Lombardo Welcome Center saves energy using 400-foot metal ‘spikes’ in the ground

Above is an illustration that represents how the geothermal system heats and cools the Lombardo Center. Each pipe goes over 400 feet into the ground where it uses antifreeze to either heat up or cool down the center. Illustration courtesy of Millersville University.

Jared Hameloth
News Editor

Millersville’s Office of Sustainability has once again released its “sustainability newsletter” which highlights steps the university has taken to reduce carbon emissions and energy use. This newsletter features one major improvement the university made: The Lombardo Welcome Center.

Completed in the spring semester of 2018, the Welcome Center hopes to be Millersville’s first zero-energy building. Zero-energy means that the center has to produce more energy than it uses. So far over the summer, the results look promising: the building produced almost three times more energy than it consumed.

500 solar panels on top of the center produced over 100,000 kWh from May through August, while the center used just over 30,000 kWh. To put that into perspective, that amount of extra energy could power Stayer, Osburn, Hash, and Luek halls for an entire week.

The Welcome Center is hoping to receive its official zero-energy building certificate, which the Living Future Institute will award when the center produces more energy than it consumes for an entire year.

One of the most interesting ways that the Welcome Center conserves power is through the use of its geothermal heating and cooling system. This system uses pipes full of antifreeze to exchange heat from the building to the ground or vice versa. 

According to the sustainability office’s website, “The building’s geothermal heating system pulls energy from antifreeze that travels in a loop deep underground. Along the way the antifreeze matches the earth’s constant temperature of 50 degrees.” These pipes go straight down over 400 feet into the ground to allow the heat exchange.

The antifreeze then gets circulated through the building, either heating or cooling it, depending on the season. This method of heating or cooling is anywhere from 50 to 75 percent more efficient than conventional methods according to Energy Environmental, an organization that specializes in renewable energy systems.

There are 20 pipes that make up this system; each one has a “brass marker” that displays the top of the pipe. The markers are scattered along the ground behind the Welcome Center.

The sustainability newsletter outlined other achievements Millersville has made: since 2005, the campus has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent. This decrease it the result of many buildings now being heated by natural gas rather than electricity.

Millersville continues to reduce its energy usage, and has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040. Students can learn more about Millersville’s energy usage and programs to reduce waste by visiting the Welcome Center.