IMEG leading design of DOE-funded community geothermal project

IMEG is leading the analysis and design of a community-scale geothermal system for the City of Ann Arbor, MI, one of 11 similar projects selected and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Geothermal Technologies Office. 

According to the DOE, community-scale geothermal systems are relatively common outside the U.S. but have a comparably small presence domestically. The selected projects—which feature urban, suburban, rural, and remote communities and a range of system sizes, technologies, and geographies—represent the first of two phases in a $13 million initiative to support the design and eventual deployment of community geothermal heating and cooling systems. 

The Ann Arbor project focuses on the city’s Bryant neighborhood, an underserved, energy-burdened community of 262 households, 75 percent of which are considered low-income; over 50 percent of residents are minorities and 50 percent are renters. The neighborhood is directly adjacent to the city’s capped landfill and a busy highway system. Prone to flooding and with extremely low tree canopy coverage, the neighborhood also lacks natural system amenities largely enjoyed in all other areas of the city.  

The goal of the project is to design (and eventually create) a community-scale geothermal system that covers at least 75% of the heating and cooling load for all 262 households as well as for a local school, a county community mental health service center, and the City of Ann Arbor’s public works facility. The project will directly lower the neighborhood’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40%, significantly improve indoor air quality, eliminate the energy burden for low-income residents, and enhance year-round comfort. According to the City of Ann Arbor, the project also will “help crystallize community-centered design and support for creating the nation’s first fully decarbonized existing low-income neighborhood in America by providing a series of resident-centered and resident-designed engagement activities, supported by expert knowledge and hands-on exploration.” 

The project team is led by the City of Ann Arbor and consists of 14 entities including community organizations, mental health providers, the public school district, utility providers, and workforce development and training organizations. Also on the team are several firms skilled at geothermal analysis and design and which are being led by Adam McMillen, IMEG’s Director of Sustainability. Technologies will include a looped geothermal system, rooftop solar, and battery energy storage, along with energy efficiency improvements. 

“Expanding the uses of clean energy and decarbonizing our communities is a vital component of addressing climate change and its effects on the population,” says McMillen. “At-risk communities in particular are at great risk of the health-related consequences of the worsening environment and the ever-rising cost of energy. This project addresses both inequities.” 

By late 2024, the team will have at least one conceptual design, technical report, and installed cost estimates for a viable district geothermal heating and cooling system to meet the project goals. It also will have a plan for how to scale the workforce to support greater adoption of geothermal and other decarbonization technologies.  

Based on first-phase outcomes, the DOE will then select a subset of projects to receive second-phase funding to deploy their systems. Projects that do not receive DOE funding for the second phase can seek other funding sources. 

“IMEG is excited to be a part of this groundbreaking, collaborative project,” says McMillen. “Its design and eventual construction will serve as a model of what can be done to effect substantive energy and environmental solutions to improve all kinds of communities.” 

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