Nick Dentamaro/Brown University

Brown University explores geothermal energy

Dec. 1, 2023
Test wells are being installed on the Providence, Rhode Island, campus to determine if a geothermal system is feasible.

Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, is exploring the feasibility of using geothermal energy as the primary source of heat for its buildings in the College Hill and Jewelry District neighborhoods.

Construction crews working with Brown’s Office of Sustainability and Resiliency and Division of Facilities Management have drilled about 1,000 feet into the ground at three different sites to install test-wells that will help determine the viability of using geothermal heating and cooling across campus.

The effort will show how many wells — and to what depth — Brown would need to drill to move away from fossil fuel combustion to a highly efficient geothermal system. The system, in combination with other efficiency measures, would help Brown meet decarbonization goals outlined in its strategic plan for sustainability.

“The bottom line is that we need to find a way to heat our campus that doesn't rely on the combustion of fossil gas,” said Stephen Porder, associate provost for sustainability. 

Data collected at each test-well will help the team put together a feasibility plan that includes financial and logistical details including costs, constraints and impacts to campus from construction.

TheuUniversity’s exploration of geothermal energy is one of several campus initiatives to address the global climate crisis. The ultimate goal is to achieve net-zero by 2040 with 75% of reductions happening by 2025.

“We’ve aligned our goals with what global climate scientists have identified as a critical tipping point for elimination or reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Jessica Berry, assistant vice president for sustainability and resiliency.

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