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.

"We started with one vertical drill and then added a horizontal directional drill in 2001," said Soukup. "We maintained a steady workload of residential geothermal work, and then began taking on commercial projects."

Soukup believes the experience of completing residential systems helped make the transition to large and more profitable commercial projects.

"Currently our geothermal workload is about 20 percent residential, 80 percent commercial," he said. "For commercial jobs, QC may turnkey a complete project; or on other projects subcontracts installation of the loops.

With increased commercial geothermal business, Soukup added another vertical drill and a new, larger directional drill.

HDD options
The HDD installation process permits the loop to be installed under: driveways and walks; lawns, flower beds and other landscaping; outbuildings and other surface obstructions. Excavation is minimized which reduces restoration costs.

"Over the last three years, our use of directional drilling for commercial loops has greatly increased," said Soukup. "The increased demand justified the investment in a new larger drill unit that increased production capabilities."

With geothermal's popularity growing and the economy down, some HDD contractors may be looking to that market for work.

"We are seeing some HDD specialists interested in loop work," said Soukup. "But we are well established, and some engineers now require a contractor be pre qualified to be considered for a geothermal project, and that gives us an advantage over drillers from other markets."

The future for geothermal heating and cooling appears to be extremely positive.

Rocky Mountain Geo Thermal's Lynch said higher up front cost of a geothermal system is about the only negative his company encounters. But that factor is being offset by rising fuel costs, a 30 percent tax credit and 10 percent rebate on a complete system.

"A pay back or ROI in the three to seven year range makes sense to owners," he added. "And the build green movement seems to be helping, also."

Barriers
Despite the bright future predicted for growth of geothermal heating and cooling in the United States, barriers remain.

Perhaps the best recent analysis of the status of the geothermal market in the U.S. is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory report Geothermal (Ground Source Heat Pumps) Market Status, Barriers to Adoption, and Actions to Overcome Barriers, released in December 2008.

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