El Paso Readiness Center Honored for Innovative Geothermal-Based Design

To help take a leadership role on energy efficiency, the Texas Army National Guard turned to an innovative geothermal-based design that reduces energy demand and increases sustainability for the heating and cooling system at the El Paso Hondo Pass Readiness Center.

The project shows how we’re finding specially tailored solutions for our longtime client, the Texas Military Department, which described the new system as a significant enhancement to the reliability, efficiency and resilience of their critical facility.

For its innovation, resilient design and client benefits, the project was recognized with an Engineering Excellence Gold Medal from ACEC Texas and advanced to the American Council of Engineering Companies’ national competition.

The system that Freese and Nichols’ Facilities team designed helped resolve problems encountered by air-cooled systems in locations such as El Paso, where dusty conditions make constant cleaning of the coils necessary and quickly shifting temperatures put extra stress on compressors and fans.

Installing a geothermal system helped the center to improve its energy efficiency and guarantee continuous operations to meet its state and federal responsibilities, especially in an emergency. The new system also helped the facility move closer to becoming net zero energy efficient with the addition of a rooftop photovoltaic array in the future.

Innovative and Resilient

Thanks to an innovative combination of Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) and geothermal-based systems, the Hondo Pass Readiness Center is saving about 88% on its annual gas usage and 25% on its annual electricity usage.

That’s because as a component of renovations for this military training facility, Freese and Nichols modernized the HVAC system with a design that uses two technologies together – Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) and geothermal-based systems – as a fine-tuned system. Although they are rarely used together, they provided a well-formulated option in El Paso’s dry, heat-prone climate, where dusty conditions and large temperature fluctuations required a delicate balance for optimal operations.

The combination of technologies allowed the team to implement geothermal technology in a hotter-than-usual atmosphere through bypassing the geothermal system when needed to use only VRF – while gaining efficiency and reducing the size of the geothermal well field.

Engineering Advancement

Even today, geothermal technology is viewed as a “niche,” nonconventional method within the engineering industry, used only in specific regions and bearing a higher cost with added maintenance. The success of this project elevates the use of geothermal design as a mainstream engineering solution. It positively contributes to the validity of geothermal systems as a highly efficient option and raises its stature as a state-implemented solution to serve Texas’ Army Reserve.

The Texas Army National Guard is now leading innovation combined with resiliency and readiness. The design team’s hope is that the successful combination of geothermal technology with other commonly used technologies will become a viable engineering solution to benefit more facility owners in the future.

Multiple Benefits

The Hondo Pass Readiness Center is one of 65 readiness centers and four training installations across Texas. The primary purpose of National Guard Readiness Centers is training of the Army Reserve. Once a month, staff meet for readiness and response training in preparation for border work, natural disasters and relief scenarios. The renovated Hondo Pass Readiness Center supports Texas’ troops with a sustainable, strong design. For example, geothermal system equipment is located inside the building or underground, resulting in a facility that is less vulnerable to outside attack and aligns with the Texas Military Department’s Anti-Terrorist Force Protection (ATFP) initiatives.

In addition, the heating and cooling systems can operate without any external influence, and future improvements are also possible for the building to achieve net zero and additional resiliency. It is now “solar ready” – giving the National Guard capabilities to operate on an “island” for up to 14 days, if needed.

Exceeding Expectations

When the project started, the Texas Military Department was not specifically seeking an energy solution for the Hondo Pass Readiness Center. Rather, initial needs aimed at updating the overall facility and its aging systems.

However, after initial review of Freese and Nichols’ design options and discussion of the economic benefits and payback, the Texas Military Department’s Energy Manager realized that specific improvements to heating and cooling systems using geothermal-based technology would align with the organization’s sustainability goals and their desire to have a more resilient organization. Ultimately, this project molded with their mission perfectly.

Freese and Nichols also successfully engaged users during each project milestone, working with the Texas Military Department’s Energy Manager, Design Branch and Project Management Branch. The team took feedback provided by facility users during review meetings and incorporated this information into the project for a successful end product that exceeded the client’s expectations.

Before project improvements, average energy use for the Hondo Pass Readiness Center was 197,000-kWh of electricity and 539-MCF of gas annually. With the new system, the facility is estimated to save 50,000-kWh of electricity, 28-kW of electricity demand and 479-MCF of gas per year.