West / Regional Reports

Consortium Pushes For Geothermal Use In California

October 25, 2003
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In an effort to bring the success of geoexchange to Southern California, the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium (GHPC) has been conducting a program to increase the awareness and use of the heating and cooling technology. The primary focus is schools and commercial buildings within Southern California Edison's service territory.

To date this year, GHPC has reached out to more than 1,000 school officials, business owners, architects, and engineers through its educational and training seminars on geoexchange, a system designed to reduce electricity demand, lower utility bills, increase efficiency, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional heating and cooling systems.

"As Governor-elect [Arnold] Schwarzenegger continues to unveil his energy proposals for the state of California, he should take a good look at geoexchange and the incredible energy savings that it offers Californians," said Wael El-Sharif, executive director of GHPC. "Combine that with the technology's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially and you get a win-win-win for California."

The consortium is partnering with the Davis, Calif.-based Association for Efficient Environmental Energy Systems.

Save Energy, Costs

Because heating and cooling can account for more than 30 percent of a building's energy costs, El-Sharif stated it's best to reduce energy demand. For that reason, he said technologies that can reduce HVAC energy consumption "provide a more substantial savings."

"We've seen clear indications that electricity demand in California is continuing to rise and while the California Energy Commission has stated that the state's electricity supplies should be sufficient through 2006, some generating companies see the supply waning as early as 2005," said El-Sharif. "That's just 15 months away."

In his estimation, each ton of standard air conditioning that is replaced by geoexchange reduces peak electrical demand by nearly 1 kilowatt (kW). An average home is said to use about 2.5 to 5 tons of air conditioning, 2.0 to 6.0 kW per house. If just one in 12 California homes installed a geoexchange system, the energy savings would equal nine new power plants, said El-Sharif.

Because they tap the earth's renewable energy, he said geoexchange systems are more efficient than oil- or gas-fired boiler/chiller systems, furnaces, or conventional heat pumps. In the end, they don't burn fossil fuels, nor do they try to extract heat from cold winter air or reject heat to hot summer air.

"They simply move heat from the earth to a building's interior in winter, and pump heat from the interior to the earth in summer. So they cost less to operate. Much less," said El-Sharif.

According to the consortium, building owners with geoexchange units typically realize energy savings of 25 percent to 50 percent over conventional systems.

Geoexchange Technology

The way it works is simple. In winter, warmth is drawn from the earth through a series of pipes, called a loop, installed beneath the ground. A water solution circulating through this piping loop carries the earth's natural warmth to a heat pump inside a building.

The heat pump concentrates the earth's thermal energy and transfers it to air circulated through interior ductwork to reach every space in a school or office building.

In the summer, the process is reversed; heat is extracted from air inside the building and transferred to the biggest "heat sink" of all - Mother Earth - by way of the ground loop piping.

The system has the blessing of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which noted that geoexchange is "one of the most energy-efficient, environmentally friendly heating and cooling technologies available."

For more information on geoexchange technology, contact GHPC at 888-333-4472 or visit www.geoexchange.org.

Publication date: 10/27/2003

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