ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — It seems hvac contractors are still a little unsure how much of a margin of error to allow themselves when they bid on geothermal (ground-source or water-source) heat pump projects, according to Steven Bauman, a project consultant for New Jersey electric utilities.

“We need to educate contractors so that they don’t bid these projects too high,” he said, noting the technology really isn’t that complicated. “There’s nothing in there that’s going to bite them.”

Bauman and others spoke on the topic of utility promotions of geothermal systems at ASHRAE’s Winter Meeting in Atlantic City. There are several good reasons for utilities to promote geothermal use for heating and cooling. Bauman cited:

  • An increase in the customer base during heating season;

  • Better use of the utility’s infrastructure in cooling season, preventing brownouts and blackouts; and

  • Improvement of the utility’s load profile year-round.

    Moreover, “Customers like the technology,” he said.

    And, why shouldn’t they? Bauman cited potential air conditioning savings of up to 47% of the kW load; and heating efficiency that is potentially 10 times more efficient (when replacing a 40% to 60% efficient boiler with 4.0-COP open-loop ground-source heat pump system).

    According to Bauman, customers like the idea that they:

  • Can save money through reduced operating costs;

  • Don’t need to store fossil fuels on their property (often a concern for residential customers);

  • Will have easier systems to maintain (especially commercial-industrial customers);

  • Can have thermostats in individual classrooms (for schools);

  • Don’t need a cooling tower or rooftop units (aesthetic preferences);

  • Don’t need to protect equipment outdoors from the elements or vandalism;

  • Can free up some space indoors (no boiler); and

  • Can have the benefits of using a green technology.


    Utility rebates are still quite useful to promote the technology, said Bauman, because the rebates can go a long way toward offsetting the typically substantial first cost.

    Bauman also recommended that parties interested in promoting the technology throw in a bit of Ed McMahon-style showmanship, in the form of large novelty checks for the first rebate (for commercial projects), presented at upbeat public events with a lot of publicity.

    He also recommended that utilities form partnerships with the design and installation trades, and that they promote geothermal technologies with something like tabletop presentations at local professional meetings.

    And don’t neglect the impact of tours and field demonstrations for end users and professional trade partners, as well as joint training programs.


    The best market for geothermal, said Bauman, is an expanding school market. In order for such projects to be accepted, “You need receptive architectural and engineering firms,” he said.

    A successful project also needs proven loop designers and installers, he continued. And remember to choose your drillers carefully. Don’t hire a water well driller who doesn’t also have specific experience with these projects. For example, he said, the grouting is different; applying it successfully requires experience.

    Finally, “Look for a favorable geology.” Areas with caves, for example, are not good choices. Neither are areas that contain hazardous materials, which should not be disturbed. “Some things you can control, others you can’t,” he said. Geology falls into the latter category.

    McQuay's new water-source heat pumps offer small footprints.

    Sidebar: Now They Take Up Less Space

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN — The latest trend in geothermal heat pumps? Answer: decreasing sizes plus increasing efficiency.

    For example, McQuay International just announced that its new water-source heat pumps feature small footprints, providing easier replacement of older units. These high-

    efficiency replacement units also meet ASHRAE Standard 90.1, the company said.

    The new units can be installed “above the ceiling, in closets, on an outside wall, or on the roof to maximize the useable space in the building,” the company said. The new heat pump’s heavy-gauge steel construction promotes longevity; it also promotes quiet operation, along with separate fan and compressor sections.

    Models include the horizontal (0.5 to 10 tons), vertical (0.5 to 25 tons), console (0.5 to 1.5 tons), and rooftop (4 to 32 tons). When specified as components in a closed water-loop heat pump system, they can deliver “efficient energy transfer while meeting part-load and seasonal load requirements common in offices, apartments, hotels, and health care facilities,” the company said. Removable access panels help facilitate installation, service, and maintenance tasks.

    All units are available with factory-installed and -tested standalone or direct digital controls for integration with building automation systems. The Mark IV digital controller monitors high pressure, low temperature, brownout, and condensate for automatic shutdown, protecting the equipment from potential harm, said the company.

    For first-cost and operational savings, pumping variables are available to reduce pump and pipe sizes.

    For more information or the name of your local representative, call 800-432-1342 or visit (website).

    Publication date: 05/20/2002