Load Share to Heat Pools, Water

Instead of exhausting building heat generated during daily activity, a thermal-load-sharing system can direct that heat to pools, spas, and water heaters.

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Spring is here, and the cooling season is quickly approaching. Pools around the country that have been decommissioned during the winter are likely to stay that way well into June, unless some type of pool heating is implemented.

But heating open bodies of water with conventional HVAC heat sources can be a rather expensive undertaking, particularly in northern climates, forcing designers and owners to look for a relatively inexpensive heat source. Let’s look at the options.

Solar-thermal is the most energy efficient and renewable source for potable water and pool heating, but solar depends on cooperative weather. Cloudy and cool days can mean a cold pool, necessitating the need for backup heating sources much of the year.

Fossil fuel heating of potable water, pools, and spas is an old favorite. First cost is relatively low, but that comes at a higher price environmentally and monetarily as you move forward. In addition to high costs for propane and other fuels, safety issues are involved when fossil fuels are used as a heat source.

Electric-resistance heating uses raw electricity to warm heating elements over which the water passes, providing a clean and safe water-heating alternative. But it can be extremely expensive. Using the coefficient of performance (COP) rating system (used internationally) for heating equipment, electric heating has a COP of 1.0, meaning that 1 unit of heat is provided for each unit of electricity, a one-to-one ratio, or 100% efficient in the COP rating system.

Air-source heat pumps, designed for pool and potable-water heating, are environmentally friendly and pump outside air into a pool or hot-water tank. However, they too rely somewhat on cooperative weather conditions, i.e., air temperatures being warm enough to facilitate efficient heat extraction. Air-source heat-pump efficiencies are in the 3.0 COP (300% efficient) range.

For swimming pool and spa heating, the best scenario is attained with geothermal-sourced water-to-water heat pumps, pulling heat from a dependable, steady, and renewable energy source; the earth. Geothermal heat pumps can be about 5.0 COP (500% efficient).

Outside temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons, but underground temperatures don’t change nearly as dramatically, thanks to the mass of the earth. Some 4 to 6 ft. below the ground, the temperature remains relatively constant year round (about 50 F to 75 F in the U.S.).

A geothermal-sourced water-to-water heat pump, which can work in tandem with a geothermal HVAC system, typically consists of water-sourced heat pump and a buried system of pipes called an earth loop, and/or a pump to send fluid to a reinjection (Class V thermal exchange process) well. This geothermal source can be shared between the building’s HVAC and water-heating systems.

Think of it like this: While providing power to run your building’s HVAC cooling system, you are also providing the energy to run computers, lighting, servers, copiers, and domestic water heating. Then the building’s HVAC system must use power to remove the heat created by all of these internal gains, on top of the occupant loads (one occupant presents a load of 1,200 BTU each hour). You pay for energy twice to remove this waste heat through the process of cooling your building. Why not channel that heat to where it’s needed?

Among the benefits that you can realize from a geothermal HVAC system is the ability to channel and use this waste heat energy. That’s because, unlike widely used cooling towers and air-sourced cooling equipment (those that have an outside condenser that discharges waste heat), geothermal systems discharge the heat through a liquid heat exchanger (such as with a chiller-cooling tower combination). The heat is entrained in the discharge water line. Most manufacturers of geothermal heat pumps even have a factory installed hot water generator available. This option gives you two extra connections, labeled DHW (Domestic Hot Water) “In” and “Out,” that may be connected to almost any hot-water tank.

There are thousands of geothermal heated pools around in the US. There is a good chance that the local YMCA, hotel, health club, or community pool near you already has geothermal sourced pool heating. Surprisingly, many of these still have air sourced cooling systems that could be converted to geothermal (and likely will be) during the normal course of HVAC equipment attrition and upgrade. When specifying a geothermal HVAC system, consider including a thermal-load-sharing system to make maximum use of building heat.

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal, Kissimmee, FL. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at jayegg.geo@gmail.com.

Slash Geothermal Costs With Free Money

Couple inherent energy cost savings with incentive dollars to make a huge dent in the cost of a geothermal system.

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

The economics of purchasing and operating a geothermal HVAC system are not solely reliant on paying notable upfront costs and then counting on energy-cost savings to recoup those costs in the first few years of operation. In fact, much of the upfront costs can be quickly offset by taking advantage of a variety of available incentives.

To start the discussion, let’s simply list the various incentives that are available to residential and commercial consumers. Residential options are included for comparison purposes. Here is a list of the most readily available options:
Residential:

  • 30% Federal tax credit, uncapped.

Commercial:

  • 10% Federal tax credit, uncapped
  • Maximum Accelerated Cost Recovery System (MACRS)–benefit as high as 38%, uncapped.

Commercial and residential:

  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding funds entire geothermal HVAC projects for property taxpayers
  • State and local government incentives (varies by region)
  • Utility incentives and funding (On-Bill financing)
  • Geothermal utility services (ORCA Energy).

Many of the incentives/benefits cover the entire cost of a new geothermal HVAC system or retrofit/improvements to an HVAC system. These improvements can include the following:

  • Geothermal source (ground loop/pond loop/Class V well system or standing column well
  • Geothermal (water sourced) chiller/heat pump equipment
  • Ductwork, distribution piping, and specialties
  • 100% fresh-air equipment (geothermal water sourced)
  • Controls and indoor air quality (IAQ) items
  • Electrical service connections
  • Excavation & recovery costs
  • Engineering drawings, permits, and fees.

Federal incentives for geothermal HVAC systems that are currently in effect through the year 2016 include different criteria for commercial and residential.

If the project is residential, all that is required is that the client be a taxpayer and fill out IRS form 5695. The customer will realize 30% of the entire cost of the geothermal HVAC system in direct tax credits. The credits can be rolled over from year-to-year until the full incentive is earned. For example, a $30,000 HVAC system, purchased in 2014, will generate a $9,000 tax credit on the very next tax filing, through 2016.

The reason I included residential is for comparison. If the customer is a commercial entity who owns the commercial property, that entity receives a 10% Federal tax credit. That doesn’t appear to be favorable until the rest of the story is considered. When MACRS is applied, the geothermal HVAC system is depreciated in an accelerated manner from 27 yr. down to an abbreviated 5 yr. A 50% bonus depreciation is also applied to the first year. This 50% bonus has been extended and modified several times since 2008, most recently in January 2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.

By taking advantage of the commercial/corporate geothermal HVAC tax credits and incentives, an expenditure of $1 million for a geothermal HVAC system will net tax incentives amounting to $480,000 over 5 yr. under current program guidelines. A 48% tax incentive for corporate clients is clearly favorable to the 30% tax credit for residential clients.

PACE is a Federal program, currently available in 31 states, designed for residential and commercial consumers. The program works best for commercial customers in participating areas. PACE is arranged by local government and pays for 100% of the project’s costs. Payback is accomplished through property-tax assessments. Though PACE is also available for the residential sector, the housing market reverses in 2010 brought that funding to a halt. Commercial PACE programs have accelerated and, as of February 2013, 16 commercial PACE programs in seven states are accepting applications to fund geothermal HVAC and other energy-efficient projects.

On-Bill financing provides a way for consumers to repay the capital costs of retrofit geothermal HVAC systems as part of their monthly electric bill.

Electrical service providers have made energy-efficiency retrofits available to consumers for years. The utility companies use their reserves or third-party capital providers to cover the cost of the efficiency upgrade projects. Consumers/businesses are then obliged to pay the costs back over a period of 20 yr. on their electric utility invoice. These programs seem to be gaining favor and continue to grow, as shown by House Bill 1428, MD., “Public Utilities-Geothermal Heating and Cooling On-Bill Financing-Pilot Program,” initiated in February, 2013.

Third-party capital providers have emerged with programs such as “In-Electric Rate Funding,” introduced in January 2013 by Constellation Energy.

Geothermal Utility Services are a promising program that has been party to a market penetration of almost 40% of heating system replacements in Canada in 2011 according to the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition. Geothermal Utility Services, such as Canadian based GeoTility, and its US sister company, OrcaEnergy, cover the cost of the exterior geothermal ground heat exchanger/well system. The consumer then pays a one-time connection fee and a predetermined monthly utility charge to the geothermal utility. The consumer is then only concerned with the cost of the geothermal heat pump/chiller upgrade and is still eligible for many of the other programs mentioned, including the federal tax incentives (U.S.).

But, how much more do geothermal HVAC systems cost than standard HVAC systems? That subject is covered in the Commercial Conversation podcast, “Breaking New Ground With Geothermal.”

Briefly, standard HVAC systems may cost about $3,000/ton, compared with geothermal HVAC systems that may cost $5,000 to $6,000/ton at the lower range tonnage (less than 500 tons). As the tonnage goes up, the cost per ton goes down until, in many cases, a geothermal HVAC system can have a competitive first cost comparable to a standard HVAC system.

In other words, when a commercial entity takes advantage of federal incentives for geothermal HVAC systems, they are realizing essentially a 48% cost reduction benefit on the entire mechanical system. One can be reasonably assured that the resultant first cost of the system can actually end up being substantially less than the first cost of a standard HVAC system.

However, the federal incentives and energy efficiency of a geothermal HVAC system, though compelling, are secondary to some of the other tangible benefits of going geothermal. Consider the following advantages that can be attained only with geothermal:

  • Elimination of outdoor equipment
  • Storm proofing (geothermal equipment is sheltered from storm events)
  • Longevity of system (a result of all indoor equipment)
  • Elimination of fresh water consumption (from commercial cooling towers)
  • Elimination of fossil-fuel consumption (on-site)
  • Superior comfort in heating and cooling modes (more on this in future columns)
  • Enabling thermal load sharing (swimming pools, domestic hot water, HVAC re-heat)
  • System efficiency, as high as 40 EER.

You can see that we are in a favorable market with the many incentives for the implementation of commercial geothermal HVAC technologies. It does take a little legwork on the part of the contractor, engineer, and consumer. Construction professionals that up-sell to geothermal HVAC have all of these resources available to them.

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal, Kissimmee, FL. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at jayegg.geo@gmail.com.

Geothermal a leader in the second green movement?

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

Jay Egg, Egg Geothermal

What’s the real essence of “going green?” What are we really trying to do? Is it for the environment? How about saving money? Is it to create jobs? Help the economy? Is it about looking “Green”? Or is it about just wanting to “do the right thing”?

If you remember the energy crisis of the 70s, you’ll likely remember the 50-mpg Volkswagen Rabbit diesel. When gasoline was abundant and cheap again, we entered the age of mammoth SUVs, because supply went up and prices stayed down. Now look at us.

With natural gas prices recently at an all-time low ($2.75/million Btu), heating and related costs for commercial buildings has reached an all-time low. Geothermal HVAC systems used to be clearly cost effective against natural gas—and they still are against other fuel sources.

But history has shown us that we should not be fooled by artificially low energy prices. In a 2012 article, Sustainable Plant reports, “Low natural gas prices won’t last, because way too many folks are making far too many plans to cash in.” When energy prices do increase, many of us will have no choice but to pay the increased costs until we can afford to upgrade to a better standard.

In a report that came out from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), a division of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Washington on Dec. 10, 2013, the Short-Term Energy Outlook is that the “EIA expects that the Henry Hub natural gas spot price, which averaged $2.75 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2012, will average $3.68 per MMBtu in 2013 and $3.84 per MMBtu in 2014.” That’s a 34% increase between 2012 and 2013 followed by an additional 4% increase between 2013 and 2014.

Green movement number two is on the way, and for more reasons than just increasing energy costs.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) systems continue to appear everywhere. Electrical production through wind generators is becoming a more common sight in certain areas. Hydropower has been used for generations. Geothermal “hot rock” power generation is growing.

Geothermal HVAC systems don’t get much press. You can’t see them, because equipment is all inside. You can’t hear them; the classic “out of sight –out of mind” scenario. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear much about the technology.

Geothermal HVAC systems remove as much as four times the energy consumption from the electrical grid per dollar spent than photovoltaic systems can add to the electrical grid per dollar spent.* Businesses desiring the elusive “net zero” status come closer to making that a reality by first implementing geothermal HVAC technologies. When considering a reduction in energy consumption costs, geothermal needs to be the first choice. The real hero in net-zero applications is summed up by the statement, “Giant arrays of solar panels produce power, while tankless hot water and geothermal air conditioning reduce demand.” from the news report, “Downtown St. Pete boasts new, ‘net-zero’ building.” You’ll find that the majority of buildings boasting a “net zero” energy goal are employing geothermal HVAC systems.

The number one reason for going green might be reduction of energy consumption of any type. The more peak load we can take off of the electrical grid, the fewer power plants we need. But are people buying into it? According to a new McGraw-Hill Construction study released on November 13, 2013 at the International Summit at the Green Build Conference and Expo, San Francisco, “Green building has become a long-term business opportunity with 51% of study firms planning more than 60% of their work to be green by 2015, up from 28% of firms in 2012.”

Another point in the study is that in 2008, the motivating factor of green building was “…doing the right thing (42%)”. Now the top reasons for doing green construction are “…client demand (35%) and market demand (33%)—two key business drivers of strategic planning.” With green building projected to double between years 2012 and 2015, there can be no doubt that “green movement number two” is underway. The question is, what green/sustainable technologies are going to be increasingly employed?

On November 11, 2013, a press release by Carrier (a subsidiary of United Technologies, and the largest manufacturer of HVAC products in the world) in the Wall Street Journal said, “Carrier Plans Joint Venture with Bosch to Strengthen Geothermal and Water-Source Heat Pump Offerings.” By all appearances, Bosch and Carrier see geothermal HVAC as the next big thing in “green.”

Let me know your plans – are you planning geothermal HVAC projects in the future? Why or why not? I’ll be sure to address your comments in future columns.

The Author
Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer, and the owner of EggGeothermal. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems, published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at jayegg.geo@gmail.com.

*Based on installed cost of $5.90/Watt from the report “Tracking the Sun VI, An Historical Summary of Installed Price of Photovoltaics, July 2013 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory” when compared with the installed cost of electrically powered geothermal heating and cooling ($6,000/ton) with a coefficient of performance of 4.0.

New Commercial Conversation Podcast on Education

The Commercial Building Products editors have added a new Commercial Conversation podcast. The new discussion is with architect Amy Stein, MGA Partners Architects, Philadelphia, and focuses on education-facility design, how it’s being affected by technology, the demand for “green” facilities, security, power delivery, and several other factors that affect new and renovated school facilities. Stein is a talented and experienced architect who specializes in education and historical structures.
   In addition, Commercial Conversation offers four other podcasts related to commercial-building design and construction. Look for a new podcast approximately every two weeks. Be sure to subscribe to Commercial Conversation so you’ll be notified when a new podcast is made available.

Commercial Conversation podcasts

Commercial Conversation is a new podcast series from the editors of Commercial Building Products. Twice monthly we will post a podcast in which editorial director Gary Parr discusses commercial-construction issues with industry experts. Two podcasts are now available for listening:

New Engineering Center for Mitsubishi HVAC

MitsubishiMitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric) has opened an industry-first Engineering Center in Duluth, GA. The Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating Engineering Center is the only dedicated facility in the U.S. geared toward developing split-ductless and variable-refrigerant-flow (VRF) technology solutions specifically for the North American market.
   “Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating’s parent corporation, Mitsubishi Electric, Tokyo, realizes there is enormous potential in the North American market for products based on split-ductless and VRF technology,” said Bill Rau, senior vice president and general manager, Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating.
   The Engineering Center houses Mitsubishi Electric application support, as well as the company industry and government relations departments. By housing these groups in a single building, Mitsubishi Electric can accelerate domestic product development.

LED disks on a rail

One use for the VLM system is in indoor horticulture applications.

Lightfair 2011 has been a blur of wall-to-wall LED technology. LEDs have been so dominant and so prevalent that very few offerings stand out from the pack. One such product isn’t available for purchase is full of potential.
   The Versatile Light Module (VLM), from Molex Inc., Lisle, IL, uses light-source “pucks” and a rail to provide a rather flexible lighting solution. The low-profile rail has two conductive strips that run its entire length, much like train tracks. The rail also serves as a heat sink. LED pucks are simply placed in the rail and use a pair of magnets to connect to the conductive strips. Once they connect, they are powered and the LED chip activated.
   The VLM offers versatility by making it possible to alter the lighting color/intensity by simply changing pucks. Because the connection is magnetic, you can slide the pucks along the rail and position them wherever you need light. Of course, sliding pucks, grouping colors, and using any beam angle opens the door to almost endless creativity. In fact, according to Molex, the concept makes it possible to use virtually any type of light source, though LEDs were demonstrated.
   Since Molex is rather talented at building connectors, they’ve created several ways to join the rails. One demonstrated arrangement uses the rails to create the equivalent of a picture frame, with light sources on all four sides.
   According to a Molex blog post, “The technology behind the VLM product line is called MID or Molded Interconnect Devices. MID technology is the application of circuitry onto three-dimensional plastic surfaces. By integrating a light source into a selectively-plated plastic component, that includes the drive electronics and a magnetic hold down, we are able to dramatically reduce the complexity and cost of implementing solid-state lighting solutions.”
   What lies ahead for this concept? “Although the first generation of VLM modules are low-voltage products, within the next six months, direct-line voltage products will become available, further driving down the cost and usability of solid-state lighting. All of this is possible through the use of MID technology and how it makes the integration of electronics, optics, and thermal management possible in a very small space.
   To learn more about this product, watch this video and read this blog post.—Gary L. Parr

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Bradley Advocate System: AIA show standout

Bradley Advocate System

There’s always one standout product at a trade show and this week, at the AIA show in New Orleans, that product is the Bradley Advocate system. The touch-free system provides a soap dispenser, 0.38-gpm faucet, and a horizontal, dual-sided, blade-type hand dryer. All components are contained in and mounted on a TerreonRE solid-surface base. The functional highlight of the system is that all of the water stays in the sink and goes down the drain. That includes the water from the hand-drying process. It’s a very attractive, well-designed system that addresses several issues in public washroom. The Advocate will be available in August.—Gary L. Parr

AIA, CSI, NIBS release new CAD Standard

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Construction Specifications Institute (CSI), and National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) have released the newest edition of the United States National CAD Standard (NCS). NCS Version 5 is now available online.
   The NCS helps architects, constructors, and operators coordinate efforts by consistently classifying electronic design data and making information retrieval easier. It improves communication among owners and project teams, cuts or eliminates costs of developing and maintaining company-specific standards, and reduces the expense of transferring building data from design applications to facility management applications.
   NCS Version 5 is the first update to the standard in three years. Unlike previous versions, Version 5 is Web based, making it available at any time for purchase and use. The NCS website received an update as well, making it easy to log in to the new NCS online product.
   “CSI and its partners, AIA and NIBS, are pleased to introduce NCS Version 5,” said CSI Executive Director and CEO Walter Marlowe, P.E., CSI, CAE. “The refinements to the NCS, including round-the-clock online access, reflect the changing needs of the industry and how they work with design data.”
   Among a number of changes, the NCS:

  • Added new “Distributed Energy” Discipline Designators
  • Added a new Level 2 resource Discipline Designator for “Real Estate”
  • Expanded Discipline Designator for “Survey/Mapping”
  • Changed group definitions in “Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing, Resource, Structural, Survey / Mapping and Telecommunications Layer Lists” to allow broader use
  • Expanded file extensions (up to four characters allowed now) to respond to changes in software application file extensions.

   To learn more about the United States National CAD Standard or to order NCS Version 5, visit www.nationalcadstandard.org/ncs5