Steamed Up Shopping Centers

Discussion
May 29, 2008

By George Anderson

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?

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8 Comments on "Steamed Up Shopping Centers"


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Warner Granade
Guest
Warner Granade
13 years 11 months ago

We have geothermal heating in our home, and while the cost savings are significant for our electric bill, it’s also very comfortable heating and cooling. We have the system hooked into our hot water, so we get a return there as well. Retail Centers need to plan this well enough in advance to offer some of the hot water savings to restaurants or other heavy users of hot water.

I figure our payoff period for the upfront costs was about 5 years. We trenched it in our adjacent pasture. It seems like retail centers could also use the parking lots to trench the pipes.

Ken Kuschei
Guest
Ken Kuschei
13 years 11 months ago
My home is heated with geothermal, and as the gas/oil prices rise, I smile, feeling just a bit smug in my little world. My bills are down and I no longer worry about the price of oil or natural gas. For those not sure how it works, simply put, it utilizes the constant temperature of the ground to either heat or cool a structure. Based on current natural gas prices, it does so at a 40% to 60% lower cost. Cooling savings are about the same (Seer value of 27 vs. home air conditioners that are at a Seer 14-16). The payback does depend on where you live, so the benefits will vary. One other thing of note: geothermal does require electricity. However, if the price becomes unreasonable there, I’ll just buy some solar panels and a small wind turbine and sell the excess on the grid–it’s nice having options. Make no mistake, the ROI is positive, the question becomes are you thinking short term or long term, and what do you expect will happen… Read more »
Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 11 months ago

It’s been said, and it seems wise and neat,

Alternatives must rise when you need heat.

So you look to the skies for the sun’s rays

And to Mother Earth for any heat she can raise.

The blowing wind, too, must be an option.

And the winner is: The lowest cost adoption.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 11 months ago
I have a friend who is building a house right now, and she has been evaluating alternative energy possibilities. This type of option was her favorite–until she got the price tag. Maybe it works better on a larger scale, or at least is more cost-effective. But it raises an interesting question about adoption of this kind of thing. Does the adoption path start at large scale and make its way down to the consumer level as the technology is refined and scaled? If so, what other things are happening on a commercial scale today that we might expect to see on a consumer scale tomorrow? Geothermal, if it’s available as an option, definitely eliminates some of the problems of other energy technologies. In Colorado there is something of an uproar over the inherent conflict of state incentives to invest in alternative energy sources and local neighborhood codes that view a large wind turbine in the backyard or on a roof as an eye-sore (especially if it blocks someone’s view of the Rocky Mountains). And we… Read more »
Max Goldberg
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

At this time there are many nascent alternative power technologies. Their development is not far enough along to determine which ones will “win.” Suffice it to say that all of them need to be explored as America and the world grapple with high oil prices and global warming. I salute companies that implement alternative energy and carbon-reducing strategies.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
13 years 11 months ago

This is a hot issue on both the store side and the distribution side. All concerned will be looking at better ways to support the energy consumption of such huge infrastructures.

Geothermal is a good alternative but it depends what area one might be in whether it will be the best. It will all come down to ROI and what is the best for every area. Some states are readily giving rebates on wind, solar and geothermal, and some are not as aggressive. Federal programs are expiring and not certain of renewal. A company building a new facility should check with the contractor and make sure they are LEED certified, green building certified. Most companies will assist in developing a true ROI.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

Retailers who own their real estate are more likely to realize a decent payback on alternative energy sources. Retailers who are lease tenants often lose their capital investment when the lease runs out, since many leases aren’t renewed. Furthermore, many leases don’t specifically allow alternate forms of energy.

A quick way to save a bundle on energy costs: lobby for the return of blue laws that ban 7-days-a-week operation. Since there’s too much retail space anyway, and it’s stressful to operate 7 days a week, why not lobby to have all stores closed at least 1 day every week, no exceptions? And why not lobby for a freeze on all new retail real estate construction for 7 years? That would save a lot of wasted energy, too. What about a 25 cent deposit on flyers and junk mail? How about mandatory parking fees of $1 an hour at all parking spots in the country except for schools, medical facilities and government agencies?

Vikram Ketkar
Guest
Vikram Ketkar
13 years 11 months ago

Instead of individual establishments making hefty investments to utilize renewable energy sources, the onus should be on the state and the corporate to use these sources to generate electricity, which then can be conveniently used by the consumers.

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