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

*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.

Subscriptions to ASTM building standards now available

ASTM LogoASTM’s Standards for Sustainability in Building, is an online collection of standards that covers almost any green rating system or code that users may come across in the marketplace. It provides instant access to 202 ASTM standards that address sustainability or aspects of sustainability relative to buildings and construction.

This revised collection now includes the LEED system, the most globally common green building system, and ASHRAE 189.1, the alternate to the IgCC. It also features all of the ASTM standards referenced by the latest editions or versions of the Federal Green Construction Guide for Specifiers, the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and Green Globes®.

ASTM Standards for Sustainability in Building is available as a one-year online subscription for $340 USD (searchable stock # SUSTAINBLDG). Subscriptions include access to redlines, withdrawn and historical standards.

To purchase ASTM publications, search by stock number on the ASTM Web site (, or contact ASTM Customer Relations (phone: 877-909-ASTM;

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.

Expert Sees Cooperation as Key to Green Buildings Sector Growth

Dow CorningDeveloping a construction industry based on principles of sustainability and energy efficiency will require new levels of cooperation and knowledge sharing among architects, engineers, contractors, materials suppliers, and even governments, according to Saulo Rozendo, Global Strategic Marketer, Construction, Dow Corning. Rozendo made his comments at a workshop for building professionals at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 in which he discussed strategic decisions being made today by green building leaders and the future direction of the industry.

Rozendo outlined three key elements to help strengthen innovation within the sustainable building sector: employing whole life cycle assessment of building materials; leveraging building simulations to anticipate project complexities, timelines and construction costs; and utilizing performance certificates to encourage consumer shifts to green buildings.

To answer the growing demand for sustainable building practices and implementation, Dow Corning is bolstering its range of silicon-based construction solutions. It is working collaboratively with building professionals to foster understanding and awareness of the products and approaches essential to the green building industry.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Congratulates First Certified “Living Buildings”

Green Roof for Healthy CitiiesThe International Living Building Institute announced the results of its first third-party certification audits, proving that “Living Buildings” can be designed and built to benefit the ecosystems they inhabit. In recognition of this achievement, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) will be profiling the program and sharing other ongoing project efforts at CitiesAlive, the 8th Annual Green Roof and Wall Conference in Vancouver, BC on December 1, 2010. The group will be conducting a special education session that introduces participants to the current Living Building Challenge standard.

The courses and workshops at CitiesAlive will emphasize integrated design practices including:

  • integrated water management,
  • rooftop urban agriculture,
  • ecological green roof design, and
  • collaborative design principles.

The Living Building Challenge is widely regarded as the world’s most rigorous green building performance standard and has redefined the design and construction process for more than seventy projects since its launch in 2006. A Living Building must generate all of its own energy through clean, renewable resources; capture and treat its own water through ecologically sound techniques; incorporate only nontoxic, appropriately sourced materials; and operate efficiently and for maximum beauty. Summary information about each certified project is available on the International Living Buliding Institute website.

Trane recognizes six for energy efficiency

Trane Inc., St. Paul, MN, recently presented its Trane Energy Efficiency Leader Award to six customers. The customers, located in six countries, were recognized for doing dynamic work to link the physical environment of their buildings and assets to their business outcomes. The award is presented to customers across all sectors, including healthcare, education, retail, grocery, government, industrial, and commercial real estate.
   Award recipients leverage improvements in building design, renovation, construction, and operations to achieve real business outcomes, such as lowering energy and operating costs, reducing tenant turnover, creating better learning environments, and achieving improved patient outcomes.
   Award recipients were:

  • Ivory Properties Group and GH Consultants Sdn. Bhd., Penang, Malaysia, for development of the Penang Times Square shopping mall. The mall was initially designed to include a conventional air conditioning system. Ivory Properties Group, with support and advice from GH Consultants Sdn. Bhd., instead opted for a more energy efficient Trane chilled-water system. The system is expected to achieve 0.63 kW/ton system efficiency on an annual basis and will be 30% more efficient than conventional chiller plants found in typical commercial buildings in Malaysia.
  • Macalester College, a private college in St. Paul, MN, with 163 full-time faculty and nearly 2,000 students, was recognized for a campus-wide dedication to efficiency and sustainability. This effort led to significant energy saving upgrades on campus. Upgrades included a chilled-water system plant, an Eco House (on-campus green living experience), and the construction of LEED Platinum-certified Markim Hall. Markim Hall, which opened in July 2009, is a $7.5 million, 17,000-sq.-ft. facility housing the college’s Institute for Global Citizenship. The building is the first higher education facility in Minnesota, and one of the first nationwide, to receive the highest level of LEED certification. Energy simulation models predict that Markim Hall will use nearly 80% less energy than a standard building in an equivalent climate.
  • Monterrey Tec is a private, independent educational institution with more than 8,500 teachers serving more than 90,000 students at the high school, undergraduate, and post-graduate levels at its 31 campuses in Mexico. Based in Monterrey, Mexico, the school is recognized for recent infrastructure improvements that significantly reduce annual energy consumption. As a result of the upgrades, the university has created a more comfortable teaching and learning environment while also reducing energy consumption by 13% to 15% year.
  • The P.P. Porty Lotnicze Terminal at Warsaw Chopin Airport, Warsaw, Poland, serves nearly half of the passenger air traffic in Poland. The P.P. Porty Lotnicze Terminal features high-performance infrastructure systems that make the state-of-the-art terminal operationally and energy efficient, while at the same time providing visitors and workers with a comfortable environment. It is estimated that during the first 10 years of operation the infrastructure systems will save enough energy to power a city of 11,000 people for one year.
  • Tishman Speyer received an award for development of the Castelo Branco Office Park in São Paulo, Brazil. Because of the investments in efficiency, the 1.1 million-sq.-ft. site provides the same quality and technology of premium areas of the state capital, but at less cost. The office park encompasses a 27-acre site that includes six towers, a horizontal corporate space for parking and services, and state-of-the-art buildings using the latest technologies in climate-control solutions.
  • Transitions Optical, Galway, Ireland, the optical industry’s top photo-chromic lens manufacturer, recently completed upgrades to its plant that are generating €144,000 in annual energy savings and reduced the energy required to produce each lens by 50%. Automation has saved Transitions Optical €432,000 over the past three years, saving enough electricity to run the plant for three additional days every month.

   This group of recipients makes a total of 25 Trane customers who have received the Trane Energy Efficiency Leader Award in the past year.—Gary L. Parr

GE, Lithonia Lighting want better school lighting

GE Lighting, Cleveland and Lithonia Lighting, Atlanta, have combined efforts to help schools improve their classroom lighting quality and cut energy costs by as much as 50%. The information-delivery vehicle for this new effort is a website at
   According to the press release: “Better quality, more controllable and efficient lighting is an investment that ought to be on the radar screens of school districts across the U.S. this year. Superintendents, business managers, and school boards can take a meaningful step toward extraordinary, lasting lighting energy savings—and improved, more flexible learning environments—by visiting”

GE and Lithonia's website is a new resource aimed at helping schools improve lighting and cut energy costs.

   The site provides a spectrum of information about how schools can improve lighting energy efficiency. It features a lighting audit request form tied to the introduction of energy-efficient Class Pack Lighting Systems from GE Lighting and Lithonia Lighting. By installing Class Pack Lighting Systems, schools can reduce annual lighting-related energy costs as much as 50%.
   “We want to help school districts across the country understand the significant opportunity that today’s energy-efficient lighting systems can provide,” said Jason Raak, a marketing manager with GE’s lighting business. “Recent new product advancements make current high-performance lighting far superior to systems installed just five years ago, and payback periods are shorter than ever.”
   Qualified school representatives can use to request a school or district-wide energy audit (restrictions apply). Visitors to the site will see a host of supporting statistics and details on how school executives can reduce the cost to renovate facilities by using NEMA premium ballasts and CEE qualified HPT8 lamps which, in many regions, can defray initial costs through utility rebate eligibility.
   The Class Pack Lighting Systems combine high-light-output, full-spectrum fluorescent lighting with a ballast system that delivers customized lighting levels on a two-lamp platform. With fewer, longer-life components, it minimizes maintenance and lamp replacement costs. It’s designed for fast, easy installation after school is out for the day or during summer renovations.
   “We think provides school districts with many of the resources needed to make smart financial decisions about lighting and energy savings,” said Monik Mehra, director of marketing, Lithonia Lighting. “It’s a vital tool at a time when school districts have to do more with less, while striving to improve the quality of their students’ learning experience.”—Gary L. Parr

Commercial carpet fiber combines renewable & recycled content

Antron Lumena solution-dyed nylon, with TruBlend fiber technology, is the first carpet fiber to combine recycled and renewable content. in a single fiber offering

INVISTA, Kennesaw, GA,  announced, today, a new carpet fiber innovation. Antron Lumena solution-dyed nylon, with TruBlend fiber technology, is said to be the first carpet fiber to combine recycled and renewable content in a single fiber offering. This fiber combines as much as 25% pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content with as much as 5% bio-based content derived from castor beans, a high-yield and renewable resource.
   “Antron Lumena solution-dyed nylon with TruBlend fiber technology delivers a balance of recycled and renewable ingredients for today while anticipating innovative blends for tomorrow,” said Diane O’Sullivan, global marketing director of INVISTA’s commercial flooring segment.  “The TruBlend fiber technology product line allows us to introduce new blends over time as technology changes and new innovations and resources are available.  This is another step toward introducing products that strive to change the conversation from one focused just on single-product ingredients to one that includes a balance of resources and understanding the cycle of our products.”
   InterfaceFLOR, LaGrange, GA, will showcase new products that feature TruBlend fiber technology at the NeoCon show, June 14 to 16, Chicago. Due to its unique composition, the fiber is the only commercial solution-dyed nylon carpet fiber that can contribute to both the Rapidly Renewable and the Recycle Content Credits for LEED projects. It can contribute to LEED MR Credits 4.1 and 4.2, MR Credit 6, and may contribute to an Innovation in Design Credit.
   TruBlend fiber technology is currently available in seven colors of Antron Lumena solution-dyed nylon: Granite, Fawn, Mushroom, Antique Olive, Gingerbread, Glacier, and Graphite.  All Antron Lumena nylon colors are held to the same high end-use performance standards and are tested in heat-set form for stain resistance, bleed resistance, color fastness to light and atmospheric contaminants, household bleach resistance, and resistance to crocking.—Gary L. Parr

Cool thing at Lightfair: WAC’s OLED chandelier

WAC Lighting's SOL OLED chandelier.

What did I see at Lightfair that was new? Though there’s one day left, the most intriguing product so far is the SOL OLED (organic LED) chandelier being shown by WAC Lighting, Garden City, NY.
   The chandelier features ORBEOS OLED Lighting from OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, Sunnyvale, CA. The circular satellite OLED panels rotate up, for indirect lighting, or tilt down to comfortably illuminate the surface below, or faces around a table. A central downlight also provides supplemental lighting on a tabletop.
   Exceptionally thin (2.1 millimeters), the OLED panels distribute quality light with solid color rendering (CRI 75) and a warm color temperature (2800K). ORBEOS panels are fully dimmable and deliver a uniform area of glare-free light. The SOL chandelier is crafted of aluminum and finished in black nickel. It is 18.5 inches in diameter and 2.2 inches tall.
   “SOL, our new decorative chandelier, is our first complete OLED fixture introduction,” said Shelley Wang, president of WAC Lighting. “We believe that the inconceivably thin, curved planes of the complete design, and the incorporated glare-free adjustable organic LED panels, will capture considerable attention.”
   Soft light from the ORBEOS panels is incorporated into the design and requires no additional light control from lenses or reflectors that traditionally result in a 10% to 40% loss in efficiency. ORBEOS light panels achieve energy efficiency without the use of heavy metals or other rare-earth materials commonly used in other energy-efficient sources. The OLEDs are made of layers of carbon-based materials that self-illuminate in various colors when energized, without having an impact on the environment.—Gary L. Parr

Smarter Than The Average Bear

I like nature shows. The behavior of animals in the wild isn’t that much different from how my dog acts. I admire biologists’ attempts to learn about their subjects. They are always putting radio collars or tags on whales, polar bears, and waterfowl to track their migration patterns.polar_bear
   Then I got to thinking. What if humans wore such tags? What would be the ramifications? The answer came the other day as I was talking with Clay Nesler, Johnson Control’s vice president for global energy and sustainability. He described how his company’s technology is being used by corporations to re-configure office space.
   Here’s the short explanation: Employee ID badges are outfitted with RFID transmitters, which can be analyzed for all sorts of data, including: daily attendance, where an employee spends his time, with whom, and for how long. Is the employee working at his desk alone? Or, is he collaborating with co-workers in a meeting room? Or, is he on the road three weeks out of four?
   By crunching the numbers, facility managers can see where the under-used space is in an office building. I was told they typically would find 10% to 20% savings. So, if a company is planning to hire (it could happen), it won’t have to move to a larger building. Or, if it is planning to move, it can use this employee-tracking data to find the right-sized building. For a company really interested in reducing its carbon footprint, the greenest things it can do are use less space or make the most of what it already has.
   I might have stretched a bit in equating office workers with polar bears. Still, the point is the same: better decisions with better information based on real-time data.
   Last month, IBM and Johnson Controls (JCI) announced a joint Smart Building Solution to improve building operations and to reduce energy and water consumption. This solution is suitable for large buildings as well as for portfolios of smaller buildings, like stores in a shopping center, or classrooms on a college campus.  IBM is integrating its Tivoli and Maximo software with JCI’s Metasys, EnNet, energy and emissions, and other building management systems. Taken together, a building owner can address building performance in systems integration, energy management, enterprise reporting, space utilization, and asset management.
   Here’s one more example. Nesler told me how the Smart Building Solution uses real-time data to anticipate problems and generate work orders automatically to correct situations. For instance, the system can tell a building engineer to change a filter now because it is the optimal time instead of waiting for the scheduled-maintenance guess-timate.
   JCI already has deployed the technology in 1.5 billion square feet of real estate that it manages worldwide, Nesler said. That’s a lot of energy to be saved and greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced. If this keeps the polar bears up in the Arctic, I’m all for that. —Jim Carper