Resilient cooling through geothermal district energy system

Publication Type

Journal Article

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Decarbonization and resilience to heat waves have recently become high priorities for building and district energy systems. Geothermal coupled district heating and cooling systems that operate a water loop near ground temperature gain increasing adoption to support decarbonization. In these systems, vapor-compression machines, distributed in the energy transfer stations, lift the temperature up or down to the needs of the particular building. In principle, these systems can provide low-power, free cooling from the geothermal bore field during heat waves when electricity is often scarce.

However, the performance of such a resilience operation mode and its implication on the energy system configuration and the sizing of the bore field and HVAC equipment is not yet understood. Consequently, we are assessing their resilience, power use and design implications under a scenario of a heat wave on five working days during which chillers are switched off to reduce electrical consumption. Our analysis is based on high-fidelity, coupled dynamic models of district energy, building-side HVAC and actual control logic, with whole building energy simulation used to assess thermal conditions in a 2004 vintage multi-zone office building in Chicago, IL.

The results show that relying only on waterside economizer cooling, the indoor thermal conditions can be maintained in a tolerable range for the majority of the building zones with half the electrical energy compared to standard chiller operation. Thermal comfort in the hottest zones can be further improved by oversizing the cooling coil. However, the waterside economizer has significant implications on the system configuration and sizing: The geothermal bore field needs to be sized about 30% larger than the upper limit of the range observed for conventional geothermal systems. Nevertheless, if a central chiller plant is added, the bore field can be downsized to the typical design range. The latter configuration still allows compressor-less cooling during the heat wave with peak power reduced by 60% compared to the standard design and chiller operation.


Applied Energy



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