The Technical College of the Lowcountry already has tapped the power of the sea, sun and sky.
Next up: The earth.
The college -- which previously installed a tidal generator, solar panels and a wind turbine -- recently added a geothermal heat pump system at its Beaufort campus with the help of several local businesses.
The college will begin training people next month to become accredited installers of the pumps. The new system and training are the latest manifestations of the college's ongoing push into alternative energy education, public relations director Leigh Copeland said.
"This was the next step," she said. "Geothermal is another one of those technologies we wanted to explore."
Ground source heat pumps use the earth's relatively constant temperature to provide heating, cooling and hot water for homes and commercial buildings. They circulate water or antifreeze solution through pipes buried beneath the earth's surface, carrying heat into a building in the winter and from the building in the summer, according to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association's website.
They can yield substantial savings in energy use and cost. Heating efficiencies are 50 to 70 percent higher than other heating systems, and cooling efficiencies are 20 to 40 percent higher than available air conditioners, according to the site.
The college's foray into the technology began last August, when TCL was named one of only two geothermal training centers in the state and awarded a $25,000 grant from the S.C. Energy Office.
That grant allowed John Chemsak, a heating and air conditioning instructor at TCL, to be trained and certified in the association's standards. It also paid for geothermal training equipment and materials.
The college said its recently installed heat pump system was aided by donations from local businesses:
Locally, geothermal technology already is at work at places such as Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, Laurel Bay and private homes, according to Chemsak and news reports.
Chemsak expects the technology to become more popular as energy prices rise.
"You're going to see more and more of it," he said.
Follow reporter Josh McCann at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.