Geothermal Energy: Operating 24 Hours a Day

Drugstore giant Walgreens announced yesterday the opening of the nation’s first pharmacy chain location to make use of geothermal energy for facility heating and cooling. The store in suburban Oak Park is expected to reduce its energy usage by about 46 percent as a result of the geothermal system.

“This is the most innovative and sustainable Walgreens yet and we are proud to showcase our commitment to the environment here in Oak Park,” said Walgreens vice president of facilities development Tom Connolly. “We are always looking for new and creative ways to reduce our carbon footprint. After considering the use of geothermal, we have now made it a reality.”

Last year, The Village of Oak Park overhauled its procedures for all planned development projects. One feature of this was to require retailers to conduct a life-cycle assessment of their project using geothermal energy versus traditional means. Geothermal use is not mandatory, but the hope is that by those who wouldn’t otherwise consider the technology might opt for the alternative energy source after seeing lower operating and maintenance costs in the simulations.

“Walgreens’ adoption of Indie Energy Smart Geothermal technology places it at the forefront of national retailers when it comes to extreme energy efficiency,” said Daniel Cheifetz, CEO of Indie Energy. The Evanston-based firm guided the drugstore chain through the process of investigating and ultimately installing a geothermal system in the new location. “This store provides online, real-time proof of carbon and cost savings, making it a leading example of sustainability.”

The Oak Park Walgreens geothermal system harnesses the earth’s heat using a network of four closed-loop boreholes installed to depths of 650 feet, and a heat exchange system. A water-based heat transfer liquid exchanges heating and cooling energy with the earth, which provides a constant temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Inside the store, the geothermal heat pump and refrigeration systems pull heating energy from the fluid, or reject heat to the fluid to cool. The Indie Energy’s system monitors and optimizes this exchange in real-time to provide the maximum energy efficiency.

The geothermal system not only reduces the store’s carbon footprint, it also cuts down on heating and cooling costs. “This type of system can work anywhere, but makes a lot of sense here in the Midwest, “said Connolly. “The ability to heat to room-temperature from 55 degrees, rather than from 10 degrees or cool it from 98 degrees will save a lot of energy.”

Other green features in the new store include light dimming controls to take advantage of natural daylight, LED lighting, efficient hand dryers and recycled content in the concrete floors (instead of vinyl) and lavatory sinks. An informational kiosk at the store will show customers energy usage and savings from the geothermal system in real-time.

– Peter Mierzwa

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