A groundbreaking geothermal heating and cooling project shows that these super-efficient heat pumps are gaining traction
by Christopher Williams
Construction of the largest ground-source geothermal heating and cooling system in the United States is now underway and half complete.
The project, located on the Muncie, Indiana campus of Ball State University, will be large enough to heat and cool 47 buildings, replace four coal-fired boilers, and save the campus roughly $2 million a year over the 30-year life of the system.
The project will also help create 2,300 direct and indirect jobs throughout the construction period.
This is great news for a technology that has been available, efficient and economical since the 1940′s. In 1993, the EPA called it “the most efficient, environmentally clean, and cost effective space conditioning system today.” While the technology has been known for decades, the size of the Ball State project proves that geothermal installers and designers are gaining confidence to implement the technology on a massive scale and are winning the trust of risk-averse property owners.
The role of ground source heat pumps in the U.S.
Geothermal, or ground source heat pumps, can play a critical role in changing the U.S. energy mix by reducing the use of petroleum, coal and gas for on-site heating and cooling applications. The technologies we tend to think of when we use the term “renewable energy” — solar PV, wind, and hydro — usually do nothing to address thermal energy, which makes up roughly one third of our nation’s energy use.
For example, space heating represents 45% of energy use in the average single-family home in the U.S. — by far the single biggest use of energy for consumers. But consumers tend to think mostly about renewable electricity technologies, rather than heating and cooling technologies. Geothermal heat pumps can eliminate the need for on-site fossil fuel use for the heating of a property, particularly in the Northeast, where fuel oil is used to heat a large percentage of buildings.
The state of the geothermal heat pump industry
“Geothermal heat pump technology has grown to a point where people are beginning to understand what it is, what it offers in terms of benefits over conventional systems and that it can be successfully implemented at all levels, from the smallest single family residence to the large-scale retrofit at Ball State,” says Ryan Carda a geothermal engineering expert who co-founded Geo-Connections and who co-authored the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) manual on geothermal design and installation.
The numbers back up Carda’s comments. Pike Research projects that the industry will double from 2010 to 2017, with the technology also making solid gains in the utility sector.
The U.S. geothermal heat pump industry has seen strong growth when compared to the broader economy. With a 30% federal investment tax credit until 2016, and the ability to install projects outside of the regulatory authority of the utility (unlike most solar PV systems), adoption rates continue to increase.
As Carda points out, educated contractors are also helping grow the market: “I believe that education at all levels is one thing that can help this technology take the next step. Building owners need to understand what geothermal can do for them in terms of energy consumption, operating and maintenance costs, overall comfort levels, etc. It all starts with contractors, architects and engineers as they are the ones who need to relay that message [to property owners].”
The Importance of the Ball State Geothermal Project
The Ball State University project is enormously important for raising awareness about this under-reported technology.
With both Republican and Democratic lawmakers hailing the project, it’s a small glimmer of hope for bipartisanship on energy. It also shows how sophisticated the engineering and construction practices in the geothermal heat pump market have become. And finally, the media attention — from stories in the Environmental Leader, the New York Times, and Indiana National Public Radio — give the industry the attention it deserves.
Chris Williams is an IGSHPA Certified Geothermal Installer and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring Learning Institute. If you’re interested in learning how more about how geothermal heat pumps work, you can download free “Geothermal Survival Kit.”
TUCSON, Arizona — Newt Gingrich is apparently an oil market whisperer, at least according to Rick Perry. The Texas governor and former presidential candidate, who is now backing Gingrich, told reporters in the spin room after last night’s GOP debate that the former speaker can bring down oil prices by merely talking about wanting more domestic oil drilling:
PERRY: As a matter of fact, perception is everything in this world we live in, and if the perception is Newt Gingrich could be the next president of the United States, that will have a worldwide affect, I will suggest to you, on the price of oil. And people who watch these markets and people who deal with these markets understand, that when you see the type of approach that he’s talking about — opening up federal lands and waters, opening up that pipeline from Canada, clearly giving incentives to drill in America for domestic energy, and then an all of the above policy, whether it’s wind or nuclear or whatever it might be — that will have a dampening affect on the cost of oil in particular and the other energy prices as well.
Oil prices are actually unusually high right now, so either Gingrich’s abilities are less powerful than Perry suggests or not many people perceive that he could be the next president. Of course, domestic oil production is already up under President Obama, and oil prices are set in a global market, meaning increased domestic production has negligible impact, so Perry’s argument is a bit far-fetched, to say the least.
But Gingrich has relied on this kind of voodoo policy making before. He often says in stump speeches that the economy will begin to recover the night he is elected president, months before he has a chance to be inaugurated and implement any new policies.
It seems that New York City has benefited financially from the passage of marriage equality in New York last July. The city’s revenue was nearly $200,000 higher ($2.26 million) during the first few months after the law took effect than it was during the same span of time the previous year ($2.07 million). The city does not specifically track the genders of marrying couples, but in the six months since the law took effect, there have been 41,967 marriage licenses issued, compared to 36,913 during the same window last year.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) accused President Obama of “cowardice” and trying to have it “both ways” on marriage equality during a contentious appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Thursday. Christie defended his recent veto of a bill allowing gays and lesbians to marry and reiterated his call to put the question to a popular referendum, arguing, “the Democrats in my state are criticizing me saying my feet are firmly planted on the wrong side of justice. I said yesterday, yeah, my feet are firmly planted right next to President Obama.” “He could have gotten more votes in New Jersey out of Democrats in the legislature — not all of them voted for it –if the President would have taken a stand,” Christie added.
But the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart challenged Christie’s comparison, pointing out that Obama opposes state efforts to deny rights to gay and lesbian Americans and has ordered his Justice Department to stop defending the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act:
CAPEHART: Governor Christie, I heard you say that you have your feet firmly planted next to President Obama on this issue, but the key difference between you and the President is while you support putting the civil rights of a minority up for a public referendum, the President is certainly not in favor of that.
CHRISTIE: Has he said that, Jonathan? Jonathan, has he said that? I haven’t heard him say that…The President is silent on this like he’s silent on every issue that’s difficult for him. [...] Let’s have the President of the United States show some courage, come on this program, look into the camera like I’m looking into the camera, and state his position. He won’t because he wants to have it both ways. I’m not looking to have it both ways, I vetoed the bill. That’s my position. What I’ve offered to the supporters of same-sex marriage is if one of your reasons for why I should have voted signed it was because you’re telling me the majority of the people of New Jersey want it, then prove it. Put it on the ballot and prove it. At least I’m standing up for what I believe in. The President has hidden on this issue, Jonathan, he’s hidden on it….This is the type of cowardice that we don’t want.
Watch the entire exchange:
Capehart went on to defend the notion that marriage equality is a civil rights issue that should not be left to the whims of voters. Civil marriage is “an issue of equality, of equal treatment under the law,” he explained. “It’s an issue of whether — if I were to get married to my partner and we were to have children, that my children would have the same protections that your children have because you’re able to legally marry.” “In that regard, we’re talking overall a civil rights issue and what African Americans continue to struggle with is exactly what lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are struggling with today.”
Germany’s offshore wind parks which are being built to replace most of the nuclear reactors closing in the next decade, are likely to miss construction targets because of delays in connecting turbines to the power grid. Bloomberg reports that the country’s biggest utilities, have threatened to halt investment in wind projects unless obstacles are removed, which RWE blames mainly on slow permitting and problems with acquiring cables and transformer stations.
The difficulties undermine the government’s aim to have 10 GW of sea-based turbines, or the equivalent of about nine atomic plants, installed by the end of this decade, according to the wind industry’s main lobby group.
The German government says the delays won’t affect its goal of shutting all nuclear reactors by 2022 and raise the share of renewables to 35 per cent of the total installed capacity from about 20 percent last year.