Geothermal Growth Offers New Options For Underground Contractors

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | November 2009 Vol. 64 No. 11
Astec has developed a special vertical drill designed specifically for the geothermal market.

"I thought I had discovered a technology that would change the way buildings would be heated and cooled," recalled Bose. "A system that could deliver 30 percent savings in operating costs year after year was very attractive."

However, relatively low fuel costs made it difficult to justify the higher cost of a geothermal system.

"Thirty percent savings is not very much," Bose continued. "Therefore, many considered the pay back for investing in a geothermal system as too long to justify the cost of a ground source heat pump system."

Bose said the turning point came three or four years ago when natural gas prices peaked.

"That brought attention and interest to the benefits of geothermal systems," he said. "Thirty percent savings of high heating and cooling bills is significant, and even though there are price fluctuations from year to year, most people believe the cost of natural gas will continue to increase."

Biding time
Over the years of no growth and slow growth, manufacturers perfected ground source heat pump products, and the number of contractors proficient in installation and servicing geothermal systems has increased.

"We are past the day when prospective buyers wanted to see results of demonstrations that proved the systems work," observes Bose.

Emergence of environmental awareness also is a factor that favors geothermal heating and cooling which is being effectively marketed as a green product that operates on renewable energy. On average, a home ground source heat pump system reduces carbon emissions four metric tons per year.

A report published in December 2008 by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimates that aggressive deployment of ground source heat pumps could achieve 35 to 40 percent of a recommended carbon reduction path for the U.S. building sector.

Finally, with available tax credits, low interest loans offered through many electrical utilities, and now stimulus incentives, it is a good time to consider switching to geothermal heating and cooling.

Said the Oak Ridge report: "Today's domestic GHP industry is better positioned for rapid growth than ever before. The technology is proven, with an installed base in the United States exceeding 600,000 GHP units. Tax credits for home and business owners investing in GHP systems were enacted in October 2008 through 2016."

Awareness of the benefits of geothermal certainly is increasing," said Evie Sibert, marketing communications manager of ClimateMaster Inc., Oklahoma City, which identifies itself as the world's largest manufacturer of geothermal heating and cooling systems.

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