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.

USGBC offers reaction to Clean Energy Act

usgbclogoThe U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Washington, in a July 1 release supporting passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, stated “The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) commends the House of Representatives for passing landmark energy and climate legislation Friday that includes several significant provisions to incentivize and accelerate the benefits of green building across the country.”
“From programs that would generate billions of dollars to spur and scale green retrofitting of our existing building stock to inclusion of the GREEN Act, which would create new opportunities for green affordable housing, this bill recognizes that green building is a major part of the solution to our economic and energy challenges,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president, CEO and founding chair. “With this federal commitment, green building can help propel the new green economy by creating enormous energy and cost savings for millions of Americans, while accelerating unprecedented job creation.”
According to the release, the act includes several initiatives or provisions supported by or developed in consultation with USGBC, including:

  • The Retrofit for Energy and Environmental Performance (REEP) program, which supports the creation of retrofitting initiatives throughout the country for residential and nonresidential buildings that may offer a variety of incentives, including credit enhancements, interest rate subsidies, and initial capital for public revolving-loan funds.
  • The Building Energy Performance Labeling Program, which directs the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, to create model building energy performance labels for new construction, establishing a meaningful and consistent basis for evaluating the energy performance of residential and commercial buildings.
  • EPA’s WaterSense program, which receives permanent authorization to designate products as water efficient, as well as funding for state incentive programs for use of water-efficient products.

The USGBC release also tells us that green building is critical to the nation’s future economy, energy security, and environment—buildings account for 40% of U.S. energy consumption, 39% of CO2 emissions, and 13% of water consumption. Also, greater building efficiency can meet 85% of future U.S. demand for energy and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs.
To download a 10-page pdf file that presents the USGBC’s summary of the act, click here.—Gary L. Parr