UBC Undergraduate Research

A pre-feasibility study to assess the potential of Open Loop Ground Source Heat to heat and cool the proposed Earth Science Systems Building at the University of British Columbia Parajulee, Abha; Smet, Kim


The predicted end of the oil era, along with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide and pollution, and the resultant climate change have led to wider global acceptance of the urgent need for alternative renewable energy sources. Ground source heat presents such a viable alternative, having been hydrogeologically and economically refined through much research, design and development in the European Union and elsewhere over the past 20 years. This study investigated the hydrogeologic potential of using an open-loop ground source heat system to heat and cool the proposed Earth Systems Science Building (ESSB) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus. This was done by inserting existing data from previous hydrogeologic investigations at UBC into water and heat yield equations to finally identify a range of the total number of wells required to meet the heating and cooling demands of the ESSB. We found a best case scenario of 2 wells, a mean case of 5 and a worst case of 15 wells. The economic feasibility was assessed by comparing the capital and running costs for open-loop systems of the various well number scenarios to those for a steam-run heating system, i.e. the conventional method at UBC. We found the three well scenarios to have payback times of 5, 6 and 8 years respectively, after which they would offer a minimum annual cost savings of $50,500. Though a ground source heat system was found to be economically feasible, from a hydrogeologic point of view, installing more than one or maximum two wells is not realistic as it takes up a fairly large proportion of UBC’s groundwater resources and the drawdown cone has a large land footprint. Hence using ground source heat and combination technologies is a better approach. Much further work would be needed before any such system could be implemented. A detailed hydrogeologic site investigation including the effects of pumping on the future utilization of groundwater resources at UBC, combined with finalized building specifications would be required in the next step of the assessment process. Furthermore, it was found that current British Columbia groundwater legislation is lacking in water withdrawal specifications, as are the Canadian ground source heat industry’s level of information centralization and standardization of technique and design. Through its institutional development policies and practices, UBC has firmly demonstrated its commitment to sustainability in response to the threat of climate change. As a leading global academic institution, UBC has the potential to take its visionary development one step further by installing this new technology that makes much sense in the context of climate change and Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto protocol.

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