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In my travels in the capacity of a geothermal consultant and curriculum writer, I've had the privilege of helping with guidance for new programs around the world, most recently engaged in several cities in the Province of Ontario, Canada.
Ontario has a robust program that has been instituted as a result of the Climate Change Action Plan. The new program is administered and funded by GreenON and is designed to provide the help that consumers need to implement technologies that will reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. One of those programs includes geothermal heat pumps (GHPs).
Contractors desiring to become involved in the program can apply through the Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI), a non-profit national trade association of manufacturers, wholesalers and contractors, and the organization that administers the rebates. Some of the requirements include proper licensing for their (HVAC) specialty through the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT), along with the necessary insurance and business credentials. Additionally, contractors must complete a certification class administered by the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA), which provides guidance and accreditation for earth loop installations. This Accredited Installer (AI) credential is among minimum requirements to qualify for the impressive geothermal rebates paid by the GreenON bank to consumers. But that’s not the only training available. There are also accreditation programs for designers.
Recently in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (say: “Soo-Saint-Mah-Ree”), sister city to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (U.S.), I was educating a group of building officials on the new government geothermal programs, and as we were looking out over the St. Mary's River, I could see a pump house of sorts that was near the waterfront. I asked about it, and one of the officials mentioned that it was part of an old surface-water geothermal system that pulled in river water to the HVAC system. At lunch, I went out to investigate, and I could hear the pumps operating inside, though the access panels were locked. I walked around the building determining that I would ask for access to visit to the mechanical room. As I walked toward the front door, a side door flew open and one of the building officials invited me in. I was pleased to see that this 1973 geothermal system had been upgraded some 15 years ago, and was in fine shape, providing geothermal exchange for this wonderful building.
As I travel the world, I'm always amazed at the number of geothermal systems that operate unbeknownst to most people. I have documented an informal history of a number of these systems that seem to operate without any concern for decades, and even generations. A similar story was published about a church in Tampa that had its geothermal system installed in 1949.
I want to focus a little more on the surface water geothermal exchange. Many don’t know the potential of geothermal exchange as a whole; it’s practically infinite within the scope of our infrastructure. That may sound like a bold statement, and it’s true. Consider that the U.K. commissioned a study of the capacity of surface water alone to provide geothermal exchange for its citizens. The 2015 study states that the accessible heat capacity from rivers is estimated at approximately 6 GW. Smaller urban areas with lower heat demands (less than around 500 GWh per year) on larger rivers can have their entire heat demand satisfied completely by surface water geothermal exchange.
Stockholm, Sweden has operated on a central surface water geothermal exchange system since 1988 (for 30+ years). Drammen, Norway; Toronto, Canada; the Nashville Airport; even the new World Trade Center all operate on surface water geothermal exchange.
So where is this going? Glasgow Scotland is getting close to going geothermal, and the expansive Empire State Plaza, which houses more than 14,000 government employees, is considering using the Hudson River. Further down the river, it’s estimated that about 900,000 of Manhattan’s 1.1 million structures could make the switch to geothermal by 2050.
Imagine all of those cooling towers and boilers eliminated. Cooling towers that clutter roof tops and have been known to be breeding grounds for legionella bacteria, which is only dangerous to humans if it’s aerosolized (which is what cooling towers do by design; “evaporative cooling”). That represents quite a bit of roof space cleared, and a generous reduction in GHG emissions.
Here is a list of some system improvements gained by going with a geothermal exchange system:
Any owner or building facility manager with some knowledge about the advantages of geothermal exchange systems would make certain they had such a system in their building at any reasonable cost. Often, geothermal systems don’t cost much more.
Many engineers mistakenly believe they don’t have the capability to offer these world-class geothermal systems. Anyone can offer a geothermal system that has the good sense to team up with a designer or consultant that will add that skill-set to the team.
What are you waiting for? Is there any reason you would offer anything but the best to your clients? You’ll be glad you took the leap to geothermal exchange; and you’ll never go back.
Contact the IGSHPA or the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) and find a designer in your area today. You’ll never go back the “Old Standard” again.
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