October 30, 2015

A Clean Energy Masterpiece

As they view and critique the paintings and other artwork on display, visitors at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum may not realize that the building not only stretches up towards the sky – it also digs deep into the ground.

In 2012, as part of a larger project involving extensive renovation and the construction of a new wing, the museum drilled eight 1,500 foot geothermal wells and installed energy efficient ground source heat pumps, which will provide heating and cooling for the new wing and the historical museum palace.  

Energy efficiency is especially important to museums such as the Gardner, which typically use a substantial amount of energy because it is essential that they maintain a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees in order to preserve their collections.

With their new ground source heat pump system, the Isabella Stewart Gardener museum has been able to maintain this precise temperature using the most energy efficient technology available to them. The museum has been LEED Gold certified, the second highest rating energy and water saving buildings can receive.

Ground source heat pump heating and cooling systems rely on the constant temperature of the earth just feet below the surface. While air temperatures can dramatically change depending on the season, the ground in Massachusetts is able to maintain a consistent temperature of about 50 to 60 degrees. The system pulls heat from the ground during the frigid New England winter, and sends it back during these warmer summer months.

These pumps can have an efficiency of up to 300%, meaning that up to three times the thermal energy put into the system will be used. Traditional heating and cooling sources are unlikely to reach 100% efficiency, as some energy is lost in the transfer and combustion of fuel. This high level of efficiency is possible because the system doesn’t have to create heat by combustion, like traditional systems– it just transfers it.

MassCEC and the Department of Energy Resources are currently offering funding assistance to non-profit organizations, municipal buildings, greenhouses and public, private, vocational and regional schools serving any subset of grades K-12 through the Commercial-Scale Renewable Thermal and District Energy Projects Pilot Program.