Geothermal Pilot Project to Reduce Carbon Emissions on Campus and Surrounding Neighborhoods

Geothermal drilling Image by Brooke Coupal
A crew member drills 600 feet below the Wilder Street Parking Lot on South Campus for the geothermal pilot project.

By Brooke Coupal

UMass Lowell recently became the first test site for a pilot project on geothermal energy, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the commonwealth.

The university partnered with the city of Lowell and National Grid to evaluate the potential use of geothermal energy to heat and cool residential and commercial buildings. UMass Lowell was the first site selected for the utilities company’s five-year geothermal pilot project, which state regulators approved in late 2021.

“It’s a project we are very excited about,” Chancellor Julie Chen says. “It shows how we can all come together to make headway in the very challenging problem of climate change.”

On April 19, crews drilled 600 feet below the Wilder Parking Lot on South Campus for researchers to study the bedrock properties in the area. The data they collect will help National Grid design a networked geothermal energy system, which will use the thermal properties of subsurface rock to heat and cool buildings for part of UMass Lowell and nearby National Grid customers.

Geothermal announcement chancellor Image by Brooke Coupal
Chancellor Julie Chen speaks with members of the geothermal pilot project.

“The prospect of geothermal heating and cooling to support decarbonization is tremendously promising,” says Walter Fromm ’92, vice president of gas asset management and engineering at National Grid. “But it still requires improvements to technology performance as well as an increase in public awareness and consumer acceptance before it can become the energy powerhouse we need it to be. The groundbreaking in Lowell is one step toward that progress.”

Mike Judge, the undersecretary of energy for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, says there is a lot to gain from the pilot program as the state works to achieve its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“I’m very hopeful that this is going to be a replicable model that can be used in other parts of the commonwealth, because we really need it to be,” he says.

Lowell City Manager Thomas Golden ’93, ’01 sees the project as a way to make a difference in sustainability.

“This is an exciting chance for the city of Lowell and the University of Massachusetts Lowell to lead our commonwealth into a cleaner future,” he says.

As the executive director of UML’s Rist Institute of Sustainability and Energy, Ruairi O'Mahony emphasizes the importance of partnering with National Grid and the city of Lowell to explore renewable energy options that could reduce people’s reliance on fossil fuels.

“This project will go a long way to unlocking our carbon reduction goals,” he says. “I’m proud that UMass Lowell is at the forefront of this effort.”