University at Albany's new student housing center, Liberty Terrace, is the school's first LEED Gold certified facility. The building has high-efficiency lighting and uses 45 percent less water than a comparable building. | Photo courtesy of the University at Albany.

To help regulate Liberty Terrace's temperature, the school installed a geothermal heat pump, which is expected to reduce energy use by 50 percent. | Photo courtesy of the University at Albany.

Students celebrate the ribbon cutting at their energy efficient housing center. | Photo courtesy of the University at Albany.

When most people think of renewable energy, they immediately think of solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, but geothermal energy -- another renewable technology -- is getting increased attention, with now more than 500,000 ground source heat pumps installed nationwide. One of the many places that geothermal energy is making its impact is at our universities, and thanks to a $2.7 million Recovery Act grant from the Energy Department, the student housing center at the University at Albany in New York has joined a large group of schools that are turning to geothermal energy to create their own energy and cut costs.

This week, the University at Albany unveiled its new 500-bed, 200,000-square-foot, apartment-style student housing center called Liberty Terrace. A state-of-the-art ground source heat pump installed in Liberty Terrace is expected to reduce energy use by 50 percent, saving the school an estimated $300,000 per year. This geothermal project will reduce the reliance on traditional sources of heating or cooling -- such as boilers or chillers -- and will use the earth as a heat source in the winter and heat sink in the summer to provide nearly 400 tons of temperature control to the building.

“Liberty Terrace is one of the many structural enhancements occurring across campus to help us prepare for the next generation of UAlbany students,” said University at Albany President George Phillip. “The facility supports student success while advancing the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability.”

Incorporating energy efficiency technologies in Liberty Terrace didn’t stop with the geothermal heat pump. The university installed high-efficiency lighting to further reduce the energy load on the building. In addition, the apartments will use 45 percent less water than a comparable building and were constructed with a number of natural design elements, including permeable pavement, a green roof, daylight maximization, and recycled materials. Liberty Terrace is on track to become the university’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certified facility.

University at Albany students going back to school in the next few weeks can look forward living and studying in a greener, more energy efficient environment.