The Physical Plant at Calvin College currently uses several snowmelt systems to melt snow and ice near the entrances of many buildings around campus. These systems simplify snow removal for the college but they require large amounts of energy to run. Our goal was to develop a more efficient snowmelt system by using geothermal energy to make better use of fossil fuels. For two reasons, we chose Calvin’s Burton St. Entrance as the design location for our project. First, Calvin’s Physical Plant indicated significant difficulties in plowing the entrance during the day because of traffic on Burton. Second, the Burton Street entrance is far away from Calvin academic buildings, making it difficult to connect a snowmelt system to an existing boiler.
The system we have designed meets the stringent requirements of all the snowmelt systems currently used by the Physical Plant. In addition, to justify installing a geothermal system, our design is more efficient than traditional snowmelt systems. However, according to our analysis, the capital investment required for a geothermal snowmelt system to be installed at Calvin’s Burton Street entrance likely outweighs the appearance, safety, and convenience benefits.
After extensive cost analysis, we found the initial investment is $420,000 for a geothermal system and $180,000 for a traditional natural gas system. The operating cost for our system is less: $6,600 for a geothermal system compared to $$10,900 for a traditional system. Therefore, it would take approximately 55 years to pay back the initial investment. Therefore, it is our recommendation to Calvin College to not install a geothermally powered snowmelt system at the Burton Street entrance. We are making no recommendation one way or the other for a traditional decision--this is a decision that Calvin College will need to weight the costs and benefits for this system.
Here is the area to be melted by our proposed design:
Here is a picture of a current Calvin College snowmelt system in action (Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex, west entrance).
The following are pictures of our completed model with the working control system.