County Sustainability Group Geothermal: Exploiting a Free Energy Source

Geothermal: Exploiting a Free Energy Source

Ron Hart
Feb 10/11

Approximately 20% of greenhouse gas emissions come from home energy use. As much as two-thirds of a household's energy bill is from heating. The average Canadian home pumps out anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000 pounds of C02 a year depending on the age/type of heating/cooling system used.

But there is a way for you to dramatically reduce these emissions, improve your comfort, and save bushels of money. 

Install a geothermal heating system.

According to the EPA, geothermal systems are "the most energy efficient, environmentally clean and cost-effective space conditioning systems available today." Ground-source heat pumps take advantage of the fact that about half of the sun's solar energy is stored in the earth. At a depth of 6 feet earth's temperature remains fairly constantly at  54-56 degrees.

Describing how to efficiently heat and cool buildings using free energy, energy consultant David Lovekind writes, "The efficiency of these systems is amazing: for every one unit of energy you need to run the heat pump, you can retrieve two to five units of free energy out of the air or ground -- that's 200 to 500 per cent efficient. The highest efficiency natural gas furnace on the market is only rated at 96 per cent." (
http://tinyurl.com/4mq3cuf )

You can reduce your energy footprint even further by purchasing 100% green energy to run your geothermal system from a clean renewable energy supplier like Bullfrog Power. (http://tinyurl.com/3nwttl)

Geothermal systems provide a triple play: The system preheats your water for economical hot water.  Plus home heat in winter and cooling in summer.

  You may not be a fan of air conditioning. However in the future your attitude could change. For example, at a time of extreme weather, being able to cool your house economically from 90 to 80 degrees may significantly enhance your comfort and health. Sceptics should read this warning from Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute.. (http://tinyurl.com/6dfrxel)

The Pembina Institute has produced an excellent geothermal factsheet showing a variety of systems with technical and economic benefits. (http://tinyurl.com/4qwz9bc).  David MacKay, the author of Sustainable Energy--without the hot air, explains, "Heat pumps can be located in any buildings where there is an electricity supply; they can be driven by any electricity source, so they keep on working when the gas runs out or the gas price goes through the roof."

He adds, "Not forgetting the low-hanging fruit-- building-insulation and thermostat shenanigan--- we should replace all our fossil-fuel heaters with electric-powered heat pumps; we can reduce the energy required to 25% of today's levels.... Heat pumps are future-proof, allowing us to heat buildings efficiently with electricity from any source." (http://tinyurl.com/4sjkpfy)

While 40% of homes in Sweden are heated with geothermal systems, sticker shock has slowed the adoption of geothermal in Ontario.  For example, in new construction geothermal systems typically cost double other installed heating systems. In retrofits, costs may be still higher. There are many heating contractors in Prince Edward County with expertise to individually design a system for you and provide you with an installed cost estimate.

To minimize sticker shock, both the Ontario and federal government provide substantial rebates and incentives. Your heating contractor will be able to tell you about these.  (http://tinyurl.com/4z2jq74)

However, even with the high initial cost of installation it makes financial sense to invest in a geothermal system. Capital cost is recovered, often within five years. Then it's money in the bank from that point on.

 When it comes to new construction you save money (or have more money in your pocket), from the very first day you install a geothermal system. For example: Add $12,000 to you mortgage, and you will find that your monthly mortgage payment will increase by $50-$60. During this same month (taking energy saving over the entire year and dividing by 12) energy savings will be likely $100 to $200. Thus a homeowner saves money from the very first day.

 The fact that this very same home is now worth $10,000 or more than the same house burning fuel, given today's low interest rates, the prospect of extreme weather and constantly rising fuel costs, installing a geothermal system is a no-brainer.