LAS VEGAS — The journey from a niche market to a highly respected market takes a lot of work. Geothermal contractors were doing just that as they discussed how to better market their industry when they gathered in Las Vegas for the 2013 International Ground Source Heat Pump Associations’ (IGSHPAs) technical conference and expo.

“We are forever telling people how the systems are made,” said Jack DiEnna, executive director of the Geothermal National and International Initiative and the chairman of the IGSHPA marketing committee. “Unless you are an engineer, nobody cares. What is it going to do for me? That is what the end user wants to know. They deliver comfort. That is what we are selling, using the energy under your feet, the energy you already own, to heat and cool your facility.”

Multiple speakers said the industry needs to combat the first-cost argument that has been around for years. Attendees promoted selling the value of geothermal in the form of comfort, energy savings, and the environment.

DiEnna pointed out that 36 percent of primary energy is used in buildings. And of that 36 percent, 40 percent is used for HVAC and water heat.

“We have been doing this for 40 years, and we are now being recognized as a viable renewable technology. This is a transformational innovation. It is a generational change,” DiEnna said. “If you are putting in a loop, you are putting it in for your great-grandchildren. There is nothing else you can buy where you can say that. This technology delivers energy independence, environmental stability, and, best of all, economic prosperity. We’re creating jobs.”

From Niche to Player

Richard Soper, regional president of Bosch Thermotechnology Corp., the conference’s gold sponsor, has high hopes for growth in geothermal.

“We recognize the obstacles,” Soper said. “We have a vision that geothermal is becoming one of the standards for delivering comfort and efficiency. Our goal at Bosch is to significantly expand the industry from its base. Our time is now. We are one of the best kept secrets.”

Soper pointed out that the younger generation will be the ones that make the change and that geothermal is the answer. While he estimated that geothermal currently comprises approximately 2 percent of the market in North America, indicators are ticking up.

He mentioned that the consumer press is now paying more attention to geothermal, and with the housing market on the rebound, builders and developers are open to including geothermal in their new plan developments.

This was reinforced on the commercial side by architect Eric Corey Freed, who was the keynote speaker at the event.

“All the buildings we work on are green and geothermal is essential to these. You are offering the better product,” Freed said. “My clients love geothermal because it is more comfortable, efficient, and maintenance-free. You guys are the good guys. You don’t have to plead because you have the better value proposition.”

The biggest issue geothermal folks need to address is first cost. While the speakers said you should not shy away from that issue, it is important to point out the energy savings that geothermal will produce.

“First cost is something we have been looking at for a long time,” DiEnna said. “We have to educate the public. Stop talking about how expensive it is and start talking about what it will do for them. How many car commercials have you seen that explain how much fuel savings a car will provide? That is exactly what we need to do. We can’t be the silent minority.”

The Future

Soper and Bosch are excited about where this industry will go.

“We are reducing our dependence on fossil fuels to recapture a cleaner and healthier environment,” Soper said. “We have a way to go to accomplish our goals, but that is what makes it so exciting. Education is the key to this expansion. We all have to believe. That is why it is important to have it inside your own property, so you can lead by example. It is part of our lives. In the future, we will not be talking about geothermal as a niche, but rather as an accepted standard. This is the future. Collectively, we are the change agents.”

The event in Las Vegas had 60 exhibitors and 400 attendees. The group hopes to continue the momentum generated at the conference.

“We are talking about how to get to the next level. We need to get to that level,” DiEnna said. “IGSHPA is moving forward quickly. With your help, this is going to thrive. By this time next year in Baltimore, this conference will double in size since Maryland is the first state to recognize geothermal heat pumps as a renewable thermal energy source in its renewable portfolio standard. The politicians are realizing that we can put people to work, help the environment, and keep people comfortable.”

DiEnna sees the conversation changing. “We had been talking about climate change and people didn’t get it. They thought it was the polar ice caps melting, not lower Manhattan under water. Superstorm Sandy has changed all of that. This is why this technology is gaining ground. We have two governors who will probably run for president interested in how this technology can help their constituency,” DiEnna said.

Publication date: 1/6/2014 

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