Home Show: History behind geothermal heating concept

• The oldest known geothermal installation in Canada is a residence in Burlington, Ont., installed in 1950.

• The farthest-north site that Leigh Bond, president of Threshold Energies Corporation,  is aware of was installed in a federal highways maintenance shop, 300 miles north of Whitehorse.

• In Alberta, geothermal systems can be installed that totally replace natural gas. Geothermal has the advantage of being available all-day and year-round, cCompared to photovoltaic electric, solar hot water and wind turbines that are dependant on environment conditions.

• Aspects of installation: Four-inch wells, drilled 200 to 300 feet deep (other designs including horizontal loops and pond loops can also be utilized). high-density polyethylene pipe loops, inserted into the wells (down and up in the same hole). Geothermal grout, poured into the void space. The grout is formulated to conduct the heat from the ground to the pipe.

• An underground manifold, with a reverse return header system results in one supply and one return pipe coming up in to the mechanical (furnace) room. A heat pump, a device that looks like a furnace but uses the same technology as a refrigerator, comes in two basic designs: those that create hot air and those that create hot water

• Hot-air ducts, similar to a natural gas system but the ductwork is 20 per cent larger.

• Hydronics piping is optional, in-floor piping that should be spaced closer together than what is usually done with a boiler.

• In Alberta, 74 per cent of a residence’s energy requirements (heating, cooling, and hot water) can be met through the installation of a geothermal system. Most of that yearly energy requirement is needed in the winter when sunshine is limited.

• The approximate cost to install the infrastructure to create one watt of energy is: hydrogen fuel cell, $30; photovoltaic electric module (solar panel), $10; wind turbine, $5; geothermal, $3; solar hot water,$2

• The environmental impact of installing a geothermal system in a home is equivalent to taking two cars off the road. Greenhouse gas reductions are significant.

• The introduction of geothermal technology into the Alberta market suffers from the same fate as many other technology introductions. Best estimates are that more than 50 per cent of all installations are being done incorrectly, even some designed by professional engineers. This happens because of a lack of education; arrogance by some installers, drillers, and engineers that think they know it all; and a lack of building code rules and adequate inspection processes.

•The Alberta Geothermal Energy Association was formed in March 2007 and received its formal incorporation certificate as a non-profit association in September 2007. Since education and the building code both come under provincial jurisdiction, the association feels that solutions to improve the industry are best met through a strong provincial association.

• In North America, the main body of knowledge for this technology was developed by academics at Oklahoma State University. Over the last 30 years, many engineering types at OSU have done research and created textbooks for geothermal technology. Commercialiaztion of that research and development of training programs was accomplished by creating an industry association that is also headquartered at OSU. The long-winded name for this association is the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA). OSU is really the Mecca for geothermal in North America.

• On the education front, much more needs to be done. Bond says Alberta needs: An apprenticeship program for geothermal installers, similar to the B.C. program commencing in the fall of 2008; geothermal design training for mechanical engineers at our universities; and education for consumers that help them in their quest to find a reputable geothermal contractor.


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