Aging Infrastructure

Oberlin Student Energy Forum

Oberlin College’s campus energy system is in some cases 100 years old, which is beyond its expected lifespan. Despite careful maintenance over decades, parts of the system have begun to fail, including leaks and underground pipe collapses that cause campus disruption, unexpected costs, and damage to property. In a step to make permanent and meaningful change on campus, leaders decided to replace the aging infrastructure with a low-carbon energy system. 

In 2016, the college released a new master plan for sustainable infrastructure, which analyzed a variety of options for both the heating system and its primary source of energy.

In March 2019, trustees approved a plan that utilizes an “energy district” approach that uses a single source of heat and cooling for most campus buildings, as well as several nearby buildings that purchase their heating energy from the college.

Decarbonization Plan

The SIP work has three main components:

  • Converting the common source of heating and cooling across campus to approximately 800 geothermal wells as. Water source heat pumps, powered by renewable electricity from OMLPS, will extract heat from the wells in winter for heating and reject heat to the wells in summer for cooling.
  • Replacing the deteriorating steam and chilled water pipes with new hot water and chilled water pipes.
  • Retrofitting of campus buildings to accommodate the new energy system and equipping approximately 11 more buildings with air conditioning.

Oberlin will also take the opportunity to expanded fiber networks, expanded fire protection capabilities, and upgraded mechanical and electrical systems at a reduced cost.

Learn more about the technology.


Funding sources are expected to include long-term debt financing, federal grants, tax credits, and other possible outside sources, subject to trustee approval.


The project will bring Oberlin within reach of its ambitious goal to become carbon neutral using efficiencies, clean energy sources, and offsets to bring the institution’s net release of carbon dioxide to zero by 2025.

The transition will reduce Oberlin’s water use by more than 5 million gallons per year, reduce sewer discharge by more than 4 million gallons per year, and improve campus energy efficiency by more than 30 percent.