Understanding The Technology

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal Heat Pump systems (GHPs) are a technology that uses the earth’s thermal properties in conjunction with electricity to provide space conditioning and water heating to facilities. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that GHPs reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40%, compared to conventional HVAC systems.

The Facts

The Department of Energy states that building lighting, appliances, spaceconditioning, and water heating account for 36% of primary energy used in the United States. This is far greater than the total energy used in the transportation sector, and nearly equals that of the industrial sector, 2/3 of which is supplied by electricity. 40% of the total energy used in those buildings is for heating, air conditioning, and water heating.

A recent study conducted by the Rockefeller Foundation and DB Climate Change Advisors supports these findings, and points out that upgrading and replacing energy consuming equipment in buildings offers an important capital investment opportunity with the potential for significant economic, climate, and employment benefits. They go on to state that “an investment in this type of initiative could yield more than $1 trillion of energy savings over 10 years, equivalent to saving approximately 30% of the annual electricity use in the U.S.”.

A report released in 2006 by the National Research Energy Laboratories (NREL) states that there were more than one million geothermal heat pump systems in use nationwide. Since then, we estimate that number has grown to approximately 1.5 million. While this is a large number, it still represents less than 2% of all heating and air-conditioning units in the United States.

The Numbers

Although the geo footprint is a small one, those units have had a significant combined effect on energy savings and environmental issues. They conserved over 31 million barrels of crude annually, reducing our dependency on fossil fuel, and eliminated approximately 9 million tons of CO2 (equivalence of taking 2 million cars off the road or planting about 748 million trees).

One of the main barriers to an increased adoption of GHPs is first cost. The primary cause of this is the installation of the geothermal heat exchanger (GHE), which represents over 70% of the cost of a system. The goal is to remove that barrier by taking the geothermal heat exchanger out of the equation for the end user by having the GHE become an asset owned by a third party, preferably a Utility (electric, gas, or water: Investor owned, Co-Operative, or Municipal). This would be a “rate recoverable” business unit, and would enable the company to take advantage of the numerous benefits the GHE represents, such as:

  • Permanent Demand Reduction (.55kW to .88kW reduction per ton of installed GHE): A reduction that requires no notification and delivers 365 days per year.
  • Renewable asset: the states of Maryland and New Hampshire have made GHPs an accepted technology available for Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s) under the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) mandate. This allows Utilities to take credit for thermal load avoided.

This technology enables an entity to become the space conditioning (heating and cooling) provider for a facility, reducing energy costs, saving water and providing comfort for the end user by moving energy from the ground to the facility.

The Benefits

There are many potential benefits to be derived from a 30% increase of GHP use:

  • Fossil Fuel Savings: @ 30% = 175 billion KWh reduction per year.
  • Dependency on Fossil Fuels: @ 30% = over 477 million barrels of crude oil saved per year
  • Power Reduction: @ 30% = Reduction of electric demand by over 36,564,000 KW or 36,564 MW demand reduction per year. (1 ton of geo loop capacity reduces demand by .55- .88 kW).
  • Power Production: @ 30% = the amount of energy (BTU to kW conversion) taken from the ground, by these systems. 306,771.96 MWH per year.
  • Environment: @ 30% = More than 35 million metric tons of carbon and more than 130 million metric tons of CO2 annually. Equivalent of removing 29 million cars or planting 8.5 billion trees per year.
  • Economic Development: @ 30 % = 5 million jobs will be created or retained within this industry in order to achieve this goal and numerous other economic benefits occur.