ENERGYMANAGEMENT BY DARLENE BREMER
“Thanks to new construction starts
in the recovering economy, as well as
increased manufacturer advertising
and consumer awareness of geothermal
technology, this is a growing market,”
said Gerard Maloney, president of Earth-Heat, Duvall, Wash.
“In addition, geothermal systems installed 30 years ago need to be
replaced,” said John Lower, president
of J.W. Geothermal Inc., Colton, Ore.
“Residential geothermal equipment is
Geothermal heat pumps were first used
in the 1940s, and current systems became
commercially available in the 1970s,
according to Navigant Research. Geothermal systems are successfully deployed in
nearly every region of the world.
“The Earth collects about 40 percent
of the solar rays that hit it,” Maloney said.
In winter, a geothermal heating system circulates a food-grade antifreeze
solution through pipes arrayed in a
loop in the ground. The solution is carried to the geothermal unit, where it is
compressed and sent out as warm air
or water to the indoor system. It then
circulates through the home with an air
delivery, in-floor radiant or hydronic system. In the summer, the system reverses
and expels heat from the house to the
cooler earth using the loop system.
“There are many options, including
geothermal pumps, that can also pull
water out of a well, pond, rivers or stream
in an open-loop system,” Lower said.
Many factors drive the demand for
geothermal technology, including home-
owners who want high-quality heating
and cooling but also want to conserve
energy and reduce their environmental
footprint. One of the biggest drivers is the
volatility of oil and gas pricing.
Both federal and state tax credits, as
well as utility incentives and financing
opportunities, are helping to drive the
“There is a 30 percent federal tax
credit through 2016 for homeowners who
install a geothermal system,” Lower said.
Oregon, for example, offers a tax
incentive of up to $1,200. For information about individual state’s incentives,
electrical contractors or homeowners
can reference the Database of State
Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at dsireusa.org.
Geothermal system benefits drive the
market’s growth. They include the small
environmental footprint; the equipment’s longevity (which is not exposed
to weather); a lack of combustible fuel
entering the home; and low production,
operational and maintenance costs.
“For every $1 worth of fuel used to
operate the pump, the homeowner gets
$4–$5 worth of heat,” Lower said. “In
conventional HVAC [heating, ventilating
and air conditioning] systems, home-
owners usually receive less than $1 worth
of heat for each $1 worth of fuel used to
operate the system.”
Needless to say, geothermal market
deployments also face barriers, such as
“A basic system can run up to $40,000
before tax credits, which can scare some
people away,” Lower said.
However, homeowners in cold climates can get a full return on investment
in as quickly as 5 years or up to only 10
years in more moderate areas.
“Geothermal is the only system that
pays itself back in savings, because operational costs are less than fuel costs for a
conventional system,” Maloney said.
Opportunities heat up
To create opportunities in the resi-
Residential geothermal market
dential geothermal market, electrical
contractors need to understand the
major differences between geothermal
and conventional HVAC technology,
including the electrical service lines
required for both, and demonstrate their
knowledge to the homeowner, Lower
said. For example, a geothermal system
can decrease a house’s electrical load
requirements, and an electrical furnace
requires four times as much amperage to
operate as a geothermal heat pump.
“Contractors should also keep in mind
that many of the homeowners who install
a geothermal system will also install
photovoltaic technology as part of their
energy-conservation efforts,” Lower said.
Geothermal systems also are an oppor-
tunity for contractors to expand their
capabilities in performing control work.
“Contractors that get educated on
geothermal technology and the controls
and service requirements involved can
become the homeowner’s single instal-
lation source,” Maloney said.
As geothermal technology continues
to evolve and make efficiency improve-
ments—such as multistage compressors
and circulation pumps, variable speed
blowers, and more efficient refrigerants—
the contractor that keeps current will
benefit from installing geothermal systems
for their residential customers.
From the Earth to the Home
THE NORTH AMERICAN GEOTHERMAL MARKET is expected to reach $147.6
million in revenue by 2017. Opportunities abound for electrical contractors to bring
cost-effective heating and cooling options to their residential customers, according
to market research firm Frost & Sullivan.
BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL
CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.610.7164 and firstname.lastname@example.org. IST