In recent times, environmental concerns have impacted upon just about every industry the world has to offer, and rightly so; if we are to have any kind of notable effect on the planet’s increasingly ailing condition, the time to act is now.

This fact has not escaped the decision-makers over at Google, at least if the planned additions to their latest San Francisco office are anything to go by. In an attempt to achieve a LEED Platinum Certification, the highest sustainability rating offered by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), the new office campus will incorporate the largest ground-source heat pump system in North America, alongside numerous other eco-friendly additions and renewable energy sources.

Img: Google
Taking advantage of a consistent ground temperature of around 65°F (18.3°C), the system will use a series of geothermal heat pumps to absorb heat when required, or reject it back to the ground in order to provide cooling. This rejected heat can be stored within the ground itself until needed, further improving upon the system’s eco-friendly credentials.

“In the wintertime, when we need to heat the buildings, we’re actually absorbing that heat from the ground, and then in the summertime, when we are cooling the buildings, we’re actually rejecting heat to the ground and warming the ground,” says Eric Solrain of Integral Group, the engineering firm working with Google on the design.

The heat pump system has allowed the developers to completely remove any need for natural gas to be used within the heating system, which will undoubtedly have a remarkable impact upon the building’s carbon footprint. On top of that, the cooling capabilities of the heat pumps reduce the need for cooling towers by 95%, which will save approximately 8 million gallons of potable water every year. Water consumption has been stated to be something of a concern for Google, particularly given the drought-prone nature of the region.

“The next challenge that we’re all going to face is water,” says Asim Tahir, a project executive with Google’s Real Estate and Workplace Services. “We have to be conscious about how we design our projects.”

The first heat pump system to be installed within a Google office was put in place back in 2010, although the scale of the two projects could hardly differ more. The 2010 project saw a small system being installed within the company’s main campus in order to supply hot water to a single kitchen, whereas the new system is designed to provide heating and cooling capabilities for an entire campus. The reason as to why it has taken so long for a larger-scale project to get off the ground boils down, rather predictably, to financial expense.

In many cases, the boreholes required for the installation of ground-source heat pump systems are drilled into a separate field at great expense. Google have bypassed this issue by using 2,500 of the building’s 4,000 deep pile foundational supports to extend the necessary pipes deep into the ground, thereby significantly reducing the cost of the installation process.

Mr Tahir further explained the justification of the developers for combining the geothermal element with the existing deep piles:

“Typically, in traditional design, problems are solved in silos, and you might come up with a good solution, but you might miss opportunities to look around and see what more can you achieve from that,” says Tahir. “Here, one of the ideas we were encouraging the design team to consider was that everything has more than one job. If there’s an element in the building that is only serving one function, that’s missing out on potential opportunities. That’s the sort of thinking that led us to combine the geothermal element into the piles.”

By incorporating the aforementioned pipework into these piles, the developers are also able to easily conceal the underlying mechanics of the system, which will improve upon the aesthetic appeal of the completed campus.

“One of the beauties and the challenges of this is once this is constructed, nobody sees it,” says Tahir. “So we can only talk about it through the data and the performance. Right now is very interesting because there’s a hive of activity going on at the construction site, and now is the only time you can truly appreciate the scale of this. Once we pour the foundation it’s invisible.”

As an added benefit, the building will also have a higher level of air quality as compared to the typical office building, as the expense of heating or cooling outside air within a standard building often means that air is continually recirculated in order to reduce costs. The heat pump system installed within Google’s new office however works so efficiently that the building will be able to make continuous use of fresh, outside air.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor as he continues to expand his horizons.
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