Boston School District Goes All Green With Geothermal Energy

June 10, 2024 by Dan McCue
Boston School District Goes All Green With Geothermal Energy
Eversource recognizes the Boardwalk Campus. L to R: Peter Light, Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools Superintendent; Kate Crosby, Acton-Boxborough Regional School District Energy Manager; Tilak Subrahmanian, Eversource Vice President of Energy Efficiency and Electric Mobility; Kim Cullinane, Eversource Manager, New Construction Energy Efficiency

BOSTON — A Boston school district is reaping the benefits of clean energy after deciding that its most recently built elementary school will run entirely on a geothermal system, with no fossil fuel use on-site.

In the year since it opened, the Boardwalk Campus of the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District has been operating at less than a third of the energy use per square foot of a typical Massachusetts school, according to officials involved in the project.

It was just over two years ago that the school district partnered with Eversource, an energy provider serving customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Taking advantage of Mass Save® Path 1: Net Zero and Low EUI Buildings program, a state initiative intended to incentivize adoption of higher standards of energy efficiency, the district decided to relocate two of its elementary schools into a single new energy-efficient building.

The goal as the district and Eversource set to work was to build an all-electric, geothermal school that could achieve net-zero status and would set the standard for sustainable new construction. 

Before the Eversource and district teams got down to work, they set an ambitious Energy Use Intensity goal of 23.1 — well below the Massachusetts school median score of 65 — and in the two years that the school building has been opened have surpassed that target. 

Energy Use Intensity normalizes total annual energy consumption by square feet, making it a key indicator of energy performance. 

“The Boardwalk Campus first and foremost represents a commitment by this community to our children to equip them with the tools necessary for them to step into future challenges,” said Peter Light, superintendent, Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools, in a written statement. 

“This school is an important piece of our broader strategy throughout the Acton-Boxborough district to reduce our environmental impact, improve the health and wellness of students and staff, and provide an education in sustainability for future generations,” Light said.

Tilak Subrahmanian, Eversource vice president of Energy Efficiency and Electric Mobility, described the project as “trailblazing” and said it “set a new standard for sustainable building practices statewide.”

“We hope it serves as a model for communities across the commonwealth and beyond,” he added.

The geothermal, all-electric building serves over 1,000 students and faculty across more than 174,800 square feet. 

Among the many energy efficiency strategies and solutions employed within its walls are an enhanced building envelope, ground source heat pumps, demand-control ventilation, high-performance energy recovery, solar panels with battery energy storage to provide resilience and reduce peak demand, electric vehicle charging, and rainwater harvesting and reuse. 

Because it is fossil fuel-free and highly energy efficient, it saves 328 tons of operational carbon every year — equivalent to avoiding the CO2 emissions from the energy use of over 140 homes for one year, school officials said.

“Eversource has been a critically important partner for the district in the Boardwalk Campus project,” said Kate Crosby, Acton-Boxborough Regional School District energy manager, in a written statement. 

“Their very early support gave credibility to the net-zero concept, and the incentive structure provided momentum. Their engagement throughout the process helped educate stakeholders on what can be achieved with an all-electric, geothermal school building. We set a clear EUI target at the very earliest stages of design. Doing so was essential in guiding the team’s work and setting the project up for success,” Crosby said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

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