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Case Studies: Great River Medical Center


Great River Medical Center – West Burlington, Iowa

700,000-square-foot community medical care campus with more than 1,300 rooms, including patient care, surgical suites, office buildings, laboratories and research areas. Opened in April 2001.

Geothermal heat pump system:

The nation’s largest water-source geothermal system. 1,500-ton system with variable speed 150hp heat pumps designed by KJWW Engineering Consultants of Rock Island, Ill.

Geothermal loop system:

15-acre lake with 82 miles of four-inch tubing, plus 180 vertical wells at 300 feet deep.

Alliant Energy conservation incentives:

$2 million for lake system; $60,000 for wells added in 2001.

Annual energy savings:

Reduction of 5,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and 17,000 therms of natural gas each year.

Annual cost savings:

$400,000 per year reduction in operating, maintenance and energy costs.

Average utility costs:

$0.81 per square foot – 65 percent less than the average for other hospitals.

Project overview

In June 2004, Great River Medical Center in West Burlington, Iowa, was recognized as the most energy-efficient hospital in the U.S.

The study conducted by Grumann/Butkus Association compared 100 hospitals across the nation, and found that Great River’s energy expenses were only 81 cents per square foot – less than 65 percent of the study’s average.

That exceptional accomplishment is due to the hospital’s decision to incorporate geothermal technology into their new $120 million medical campus opened in April 2001.

“Our goal when we opened Great River Medical Center was to be the most energy-efficient hospital in the country, and it didn’t take us long to achieve this,” said John Mercer, director of facilities.

Project design

Great River Medical Center is powered by the world’s largest lake-coupled geothermal heating and cooling system.

Variable-speed 150-horsepower pumps push water through a closed-loop piping system that extends from the hospital campus buildings to the bottom of a 15-acre manmade lake. At peak capacity, the system can pump a little over 5000 gallons a minute.

In 2001, the systems efficiency was enhanced by the addition of 180 wells on the north side of the river.

“The experience of operating this facility through all seasons gave us a better idea of how it works and ways it can be improved,” said Steve Leavitt, the hospital’s development director. “The wells allow us to maintain optimal operating efficiencies even during winter and summer extremes because the water temperature remains constant.”

In addition to geothermal heating and cooling, the new medical center also utilized other energy-saving technology, including high-efficiency fluorescent lighting.

Project benefits

The center has realized energy savings of approximately $400,000 per year.

In addition, the project has received national and international attention and earned numerous awards, including:

  • Energy User News New Facility Award
  • Energy User News Energy Manager of the Year Award (for development director Steve Leavitt)
  • Associated Builders & Contractors national awards for contractors Brockway Mechanical & Roofing and Shaw Electric;
  • Engineering Excellence Award from the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois.

Two contingents of engineering groups and project owners from Japan and across the U.S. have traveled to West Burlington to see and learn more about the system.

“Although it’s proven technology, people waited to see the success we’ve had,” Leavitt said. “High heating costs have drive people to search for other options to natural gas. Geothermal is the hot topic of energy-efficient systems.”


“The geothermal system has worked flawlessly,” Leavitt said. “The system allows us to consume 37 percent less energy per square foot than we would with conventional equipment. Our patient satisfaction is higher than it’s ever been.”


KJWW Engineering Consultants – Rock Island, Illinois

Mechanical contracting:

Brockway Mechanical & Roofing – Burlington, Iowa

Views of the Great River Medical Center pond loops