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Ground source heat pumps are a common technology in the Lower 48 but are relatively new to Alaska. Heat pumps harvest warmth from the ground to heat a building. We have much to learn about how well they work in cold climates and the impact they will have on things like permafrost.
The heat pump at Weller Elementary School is an experiment that will test how the technology works in a large building with a high heating demand. It is a hybrid, or combined, system because it integrates a heat pump with solar thermal panels. Because the heat pump takes warmth out of the ground during the year, there is a risk that it could create more permafrost. That’s why we added solar panels to the school’s roof to restore heat to the ground. The panels contain tubes filled with a fluid that absorbs heat from the sun. The tubes carry the heated fluid back to the part of the ground where we are taking heat.
Andy Roe, a civil contractor in Fairbanks, installed the ground loop at Weller for the heat pump. Here he talks about how ground source heat pumps work, and about the benefits they can provide.