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Military bases to install ground-source heat pumps

July 12, 2000
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U.S. military bases soon will add ground source heat pumps to an arsenal of energy savers, according to Oklahoma State University professor Jim Bose.

The federal Energy Department recently selected five companies, all affiliated with the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, to manage $500 million in geothermal heat pump projects.

Bose heads the association, a nonprofit, 600-member group within the school’s college of engineering, architecture, and technology. Oklahoma is considered the international hub of research on geothermal heat pump technology. That’s largely because of Bose, an OSU engineering professor with an international student body.

“The government is looking at many locations, including Tinker Air Force Base, for systems that need to be replaced,” Bose said. “I don’t think $500 million will do all of them.”

Selected for the work are Constellation Energy Source, Baltimore; Duke Solutions, Charlotte, N.C.; Exelon Energy Services, King of Prussia, Pa.; Enron Energy Services, San Ramone, Calif.; and The Trane Company Asset Management Services, St. Paul, Minn.

The government plans 400,000 installations a year. Bose said that at the present rate, it will be 2005 before annual installations hit the target rate. When they do, the business will reach $1.6 billion a year in government contracts alone.

The geothermal heat pump concept dates back about half a century. Ground-based heat pumps sink pipe into the ground to extract cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter. The earth temperature remains constant at about 58°F.

The systems run off of electricity and the earth’s natural energy. The device uses no pilot lights and produces no fumes or other environmental hazards.

Oklahoma, incidentally, supplies a generous part of the world’s geothermal heat pump equipment — pumps, plastic pipe, valves, trenchers, and drilling rigs.

“We sell more than any other state. We probably sell 30% of the heat pumps, and a lot of valves and plastic pipe,” Bose said.

The Energy Department is attempting to trim the federal government’s annual $8 billion energy bill. Bill Richardson, Secretary of Energy, calls geothermal heat pumps an “exciting but little known technology.”

“These contracts alone can save each site up to 40% on their energy bills,” Richardson said in a prepared statement released by OSU. “This innovative business and technology strategy is good for taxpayers and good for the environment.”

Contract approval by the Energy Department clears the way for work at 500,000 federal buildings in the United States and its territories. First will be buildings at two Navy bases near Virginia Beach, Va.

By 2005, the government will save as much as $700 million a year, Richardson said.

Savings are expected to pay for the retrofits. The government announced it will use private-sector funding.

Copyright, 1999, Oklahoma Publishing Company; from The Sunday Oklahoman. Reprinted with permission.

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