Tapping into geothermal energy at the Novartis campus
Novartis is investing in thermal energy storage to minimize fuel costs and reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings.
May 25, 2014
Imagine a system that cools your house down in summer, then stores the extracted heat and uses it to keep you warm in winter. It sounds too good to be true, but that is exactly what will happen in three buildings under construction at the global headquarters of Novartis – thanks to an environmentally-friendly scheme to store heat in the bedrock deep underground.
An artist’s impression of the new Herzog and de Meuron building, due to open on the banks of the Rhine in Basel in 2015.
The principle, known as thermal energy storage, was developed by environmental experts to promote energy efficiency at a time of rising fuel costs and mounting concern about global warming. It is already being used in a small number of public buildings in Switzerland and elsewhere.
"These types of system offer significant benefits for the building operator and the environment,” said Chris Davidson, chief technical officer of GI Energy, a global specialist in geothermal heat pumps. “They’re incredibly efficient, enable a substantial reduction in emissions and they make long-term financial sense.”
Greater energy efficiency
The concept of geothermal heating, or drawing naturally-occurring heat from below ground to heat the home, is already well established in eco-friendly Switzerland, where energy efficiency is a legal requirement and many new houses are built with heat pumps.
But the Novartis project takes this a step further. It uses a single closed system to provide all the heating and cooling needed for the new buildings, with heat being retained in dense limestone some 220 meters (700 feet) deep.
The Novartis system relies on a heat pump and a network of more than 30 pipes that are inserted into holes drilled into the ground beneath the buildings and then encased in concrete.
How heat exchange works
During the summer, warm air from outside the building is drawn into a heat exchanger through which cool underground water also passes. This cools the air and heats the water, which is then pumped down the pipes where it gradually increases the temperature of the surrounding bedrock. With outdoor temperatures easily exceeding 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer, the system can keep inside temperatures below a comfortable 26 degrees (78 degrees Fahrenheit).
Throughout the summer the temperature of the rock rises by less than 15 degrees Celsius, but this additional heat is more than enough to keep the building warm during the winter. Thermal energy stored during the summer is transferred from the rock, producing warm water that can be used to maintain the building at 22 degrees Celsius (72 F) or more.
Enjoying thermal energy storage
The first building where the system comes into operation will provide offices for more than 190 headquarters associates and is due to open in mid-2014.The use of thermal storage, coupled with a highly efficient design, is expected to halve the amount of energy the building consumes each year – a reduction equivalent to the annual energy consumption of 22 average homes. It will also save an estimated USD 35,000 a year in running costs.
A second building – a laboratory used by 225 associates from the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research – will open in early 2015, with a high-rise office block for 550 staff designed by Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron due to follow later in 2015. In this case the public will also be able to enjoy the benefits of thermal energy storage, since the building includes a restaurant open to all.
Environmental stewardship is a key part of the company’s overall corporate responsibility efforts. Incorporating energy-saving technologies into the newest headquarter buildings is another example of how Novartis is working to minimize its impact on the environment while allowing the business to grow.