WASHINGTON, DC — Make use of the energy in the water main in front of your house or building and you could save significant dollars.

That’s what Conn Abnee, executive director of the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium (GHPC) headquartered here, says about the water+® system. He thinks it will substantially increase the number of geothermal installations in North America.

“This technology has the potential to move geothermal energy out of the niche market category into conventional construction,” he said. “It will have a very positive impact on the institutional and commercial markets.”

GHPC is a nonprofit organization funded by grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), and through membership fees from manufacturers and electric utilities around the country.

Abnee noted that Water-Furnace International, Inc., Fort Wayne, IN, has introduced the system. The company formed a joint venture with Hardin Geotechnologies, Indianapolis, IN, to market the technology.

The Process

The water+ system is based on a patented process developed by Jim Hardin, founder of Hardin Geotechnologies, that delivers potable water from the local water company to any home or building to provide heating and cooling at reduced cost.

Abnee acknowledged that DeMarco Energy Systems of America, Inc., Austin, TX, offers a similar system. But he said this new system is a different approach that addresses the concerns of the water utilities about maintaining water purity.

The water+ geothermal heat pump uses the potable water from the water main, rather than a pond or other water source, to accomplish heating and cooling. Water is then discharged and returned to the water plant or substation. While en route to the utility, the water absorbs or rejects heat to the earth surrounding the pipe and ultimately returns to the same temperature as the water in the main.

The water can then be tested, treated, and recirculated into the main water supply, providing a renewable heating and cooling source. Customers pay the water utility for tapping into this energy.

These geothermal heat pumps, which can be installed in homes or buildings, use the potable water from the main to heat and cool the structure.

Others May Come Aboard

Water+ is an independent operation available to all hvacr manufacturers who make geo-thermal or water-source units. GeoExchange or geothermal systems, which are up to 50% more efficient than conventional heating and cooling systems, operate by taking advantage of the free energy that’s stored in the earth and moving it into a home or building via a loop system.

Traditionally, these loops have front-end installation costs that can multiply the overall system cost. By putting the water main into the loop, it’s possible to reduce installation costs and receive the comfort and high efficiency of a geothermal system while also lowering utility bills.

“This technology changes the economics of heating, cooling, and refrigeration,” stated Bruce Ritchey, president and ceo of WaterFurnace.

“The cost of the system will be equal to or less than conventional systems, but will be dramatically more energy efficient with lower maintenance costs,” he said.

The water+ technology will also benefit builders and developers, utilities, and local and state economies, said Ritchey.

“This is a win-win technology for everyone,” Ritchey continued. “Building owners save money on lower fuel costs; it’s like a tax cut for consumers. Water utilities benefit from the additional revenue.

“Electric utilities win because the system lowers energy usage during the summer when they need to avoid brownout situations, and increases the load in winter when there is typically capacity to spare.

“Local and state economies benefit because the money paid to the local water utility for use of the water stays in the local economy. And economic development commissions will be able to lure potential businesses interested in moving into communities with low energy costs,” he concluded.

Analyzing Costs

Those involved in the venture hope that the process will make geothermal installations more affordable.

James R. Shields, chairman of the board of WaterFurnace, said that this now “allows us to compete on the basis of cost. In the past, our system was typically more expensive to install, but we could sell them on the basis of energy and maintenance savings that pay back the price difference. Now, we can meet or beat the first costs and have even better energy savings.”

Sidebar: Obituary

SOUTHFIELD, MI — Frank Kern Jr., owner and chairman of the board of Maxitrol Company, died on Aug. 16, 2001, at Providence Hospital in Southfield, MI, following complications from surgery, the company announced.

Mr. Kern, who received the original patent on the straight-through flow regulator, was a “self-made man” whose businesses employed people in Michigan, Texas, Mexico, and Germany.

In 1946, he purchased Metal Parts Machine Co., where he manufactured small-cylinder gasoline engines for model airplanes and natural-pressure gas regulators used in household appliances. Renamed Maxitrol in 1953, the company now offers many regulator designs and modulation systems worldwide. Mr. Kern loved to sail, skippering numerous Port Huron to Mackinaw races in the 1950s and 60s. He was also an avid Michigan Wolverines football fan. His real passion, however, was “good, old-fashioned hard work,” according to son Frank Kern III, current president of Maxitrol. “When he was younger, Dad couldn’t wait to get to the office. He was the first person to arrive in the morning and the last one to leave at night,” his son said.

Mr. Kern also was part owner and a member of the board of directors of the former National Bank of Southfield and National Bank of Royal Oak. He also was a member of the Society of Gas Engineers.

Publication date: 08/27/2001