Heat: Earth Source Heat

Earth Source Heat

An innovative low carbon heating solution for the Ithaca campus, Earth Source Heat provides an ideal opportunity to conduct research and serve as a demonstration project for other institutions or communities seeking new approaches to sustainable energy.  If we are successful, we will all but eliminate fossil fuel use on our campus and show a new energy solution to partners across the globe.

Latin and Greek Energeia Geothermica Perge Deorsum! translates as Onward and Upword

What is Earth Source Heat?

Earth Source Heat (ESH) is a Cornell specific enhanced geothermal system (EGS) that would use earth’s internal heat to warm our campus.  

Wells would be drilled into “basement rock” where the internal heat of the earth keeps temperatures near or above the boiling point of water. Water circulated through the wells returns to the surface as hot water for campus heating and potential electricity production.

Cornell’s faculty, researchers and engineers are exploring a hybrid system that would use bioenergy to meet supplemental heating needs during sustained or extreme cold spells. 

Our Living Laboratory

The challenges and potential issues of investing a new renewable energy solution require thorough and thoughtful examination – making this an ideal research project for a multidisciplinary university like Cornell. While similar projects have succeeded in other areas, this type of project has never been attempted at a location with the conditions present in upstate New York. Our faculty and staff have extensive expertise in developing renewable energy systems and have studied large-scale geothermal systems around the world. This expertise, combined with our history of creating and deploying new energy systems on campus (such as Lake Source Cooling), make Cornell exceptionally well suited to explore this technology. 

Carbon Neutrality

Due to the size of our campus, Cornell requires innovative solutions that sustainably meet heating demands for a low carbon future while allowing for reliability at the scale required of a large research University in a cold climate. 

As part of ongoing Climate Action Plan updates, Cornell produced the Options for a Carbon Neutral Campus report in 2016 which compared 10 viable solutions for low-carbon heat and power to help meet our goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.  The report was prepared by senior leaders, faculty experts, technical staff, and used the Sustainability Framework to compare the benefits and challenges for people, prosperity, and planet, and potential links to our academic purpose, for each solution.  ESH was identified among the solutions as the best plan for our heating needs, combined with ongoing renewable energy development for power.  

People and the Planet

Two graphic figures observe a drill site
As a living laboratory campus, Cornell uses our energy and campus systems to explore solutions that can scale beyond our walls and are good for people and the planet.

While Cornell is ultimately interested in reducing our fossil fuel footprint, we are also keenly interested in understanding the impacts of technology choices like Earth Source Heat and helping to ensure that methods used to extract heat from deep in the earth do not create unacceptable risks or impacts. 

Our scientists are committed to studying and addressing these issues in a thorough and transparent manner, developing best practices that will minimize risk and provide guidance for others who might implement this technology.

For more information about Earth Source Heat at Cornell, visit earthsourceheat.cornell.edu.