Steamed Up Shopping Centers
It’s becoming fairly common in retail development circles to hear about shopping centers looking skyward and using solar power to reduce energy costs. Soon, however, developers may be turning their gazes downward to the earth and geothermal energy to help them achieve even greater savings.
According to a Shopping Centers Today (SCT) report, the Atrio mall in Villach, Austria, developed by Spar Österreichische
Warenhandels AG, uses geothermal energy to heat and cool the shopping center,
which measures one million square-feet.
Architekten Ingeieure, the architectural firm behind the mall, designed it to sit on 800 piles that descend between 20 and 70 meters below the ground. A total of 652 are water-filled “energy piles” that use temperature differentials at various depths to create energy and keep the property’s temperature at comfortable levels for shoppers and workers. The piles are said to reduce carbon emissions by 500 tons annually.
The use of geothermal energy in the U.S. has maintained a steady, upward curve with increases averaging about 12 percent annually since the mid-1990s, according to the Oregon Institute of Technology’s Geo-Heat Center.
According to SCT, the biggest impediments to the use of geothermal energy in large development projects are high initial costs and a scarcity of contractors competent in the technology.
Architekten Ingeieure said the Atrio shopping center would realize a return on its geothermal investment within eight years.
Discussion Questions: Will geothermal energy become a more viable “green” alternative as fuel costs continue to rise? Will it outpace other technologies such as solar and wind in places where sources of geothermal energy are readily available under the earth’s surface? What do you think are the biggest impediments to geothermal energy use today?