The IGSHPA 2014 Conference in Baltimore last month was a landmark event for the 27 year old organization. The exhibitors, speakers, and attendees represented a broad cross section of the ground source heat pump industry. This year the conference had the feeling of new beginnings- of an industry that is realizing the importance of coming together with a unified voice as it emerges from the economic downturn.
The IGSHPA 2014 Conference showcased many reasons why the industry is finally moving beyond its need to justify itself only through payback scenarios and life cycle cost analysis. In spite of cheaper natural gas from fracking, and some tax credits likely to expire in the next couple years, the industry is poised to benefit from many other market factors. Here are a few that were highlighted at the conference:
1. Utilities Are Getting Behind Geothermal Heat Pumps Again
For long-time attendees of IGSHPA technical conferences, there was sense of history repeating itself at the conference this year. In the early 90’s, the geothermal market in states like Ohio was created by the electric utilities. Some, like Ohio Edison (First Energy), saw geothermal as a way to shore up their service areas opposite upcoming deregulation. Early IGSHPA conferences were well attended by the utilities. In recent years utility participation and interest seemed to have declined.
Several presentations at the conference provided exciting examples of forward-thinking utilities that see geothermal as a way to address demand reduction, carbon reduction, environmental compliance, and even postponement of building power plants. For some utilities geothermal can reduce peak demand and also add needed off peak load by replacing fossil fuel heating. John Franceschina (PSEG Long Island) presented this concept, and an interesting discussion of the problems electric utilities have with adoption of solar in their service areas (California duck curve).
Mark Faulkenberry from Western Farmers Electric Cooperative and W. Boyd Lee from Caddo Electric Cooperative presented evidence, backed up by real numbers from their Oklahoma service area, that their cooperative could avoid over $ 1 billion in future capacity costs and also profit from expanding their geothermal pilot program. Their utility participates financially in the installations to reduce the up-front cost premium.
2. Geothermal Heat Pump Manufacturers Continue to Improve the Technology
Five of the major geothermal heat pump manufacturers presented in the Manufacturer’s track at the conference. Represented were Bosch Thermotechnology (Platinum conference sponsor), Mammoth, WaterFurnace, Enertech, and Climatemaster. As expected, the heat pump manufacturers continue to squeeze even more efficiency from their designs. Also impressive are the inroads that have been made in serviceability, comfort, noise reduction, controls, and even aesthetics.
The heat pump manufacturers are always an important part of the exhibit hall. In addition to the companies mentioned above that presented, Bard Manufacturing, Daikin Applied, and Modine showcased their innovative designs. This year the exhibit hall was opened up to the general public free of charge as a way to increase the exhibitor’s visibility. Over 100 free attendees visited the hall the first day. Had the weather cooperated, there would probably have been many more. I’m sure this idea will be carried forward to the conference in Kansas City next year.
3. Geothermal Designers are Finding Innovative New Ways to Design Geothermal
This year’s IGSHPA conference featured engineers and design professionals that rank among the most respected and well known in the United States, if not the world. These engineers are taking on the cost premium argument by looking at more than just field design, layout, and construction. Over the past few years the focus of some of the more progressive commercial designers has been on innovative hybrid designs, heat recovery, building energy optimization, and balancing energy sources. These concepts all serve to reduce required wellfield size, and usually lower total installation and energy costs.
4. Geothermal is Finding it’s Place in Net Zero
Geothermal systems continue to play an important role in achieving “net zero” in buildings, not only housing, but in large-scale projects. Don Penn from Image Engineering Group, Ltd shared a video of the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School which is largest net zero school in the United States. The evidence suggests that geothermal is as important from the demand side of the net zero equation as the renewable generation technologies are from the energy production side.
5. Regional Geothermal Associations Met at the IGSHPA 2014 Conference
Regional and state geothermal groups are being formed across the U.S. to promote the industry. As the market share of our technology grows, a local source of information for customers, contractors, manufacturers, regulators, and other players will be important. IGSHPA recognizes this and hopes to play a role in providing one of the forums for communication between the groups. A unified voice for the industry will help promote better understanding, practical regulations, and best practices.
IGSHPA held its first forum for these associations at the Baltimore conference. Represented were Connecticut Geo, Geothermal Alliance of Illinois, Long-Island Geo Association, and MAGIC (Mid Atlantic Geo).
6. Geothermal Organizations are Committed to Working Together
The geothermal heat pump industry has often been at a disadvantage to other renewable technologies, like wind and solar, because our industry is represented by a number of associations working autonomously. At times this has resulted in conflicting agendas and a duplication of efforts. The IGSHPA 2014 Conference provided a chance for some of the important groups to air their differences and agree to a cooperative effort moving forward.
A unified voice in Washington, and around the world, will require IGSHPA, GEO, NGWA, ASHRAE, AGWT and others to work together to push the technology forward. The first steps were taken in Baltimore.
7. IGSHPA 2.0 Means Broader Industry Participation
At the opening session Director Bob Ingersoll presented the bones of IGSHPA’s new organizational chart and bylaws. IGSHPA 2.0, as it has come to be known, is the product of a year-long effort, initiated by Assistant Dean Ed Kirtley, to recreate IGSHPA in its new home in the College of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology (CEAT). Dean Kirtley and others saw the need for IGSHPA to have a structure that would allow it to be more responsive to the geothermal industry, its members, and other trade organizations and associations.
In early 2015 IGSHPA will make major constitutional changes. IGSHPA membership will be reclassified into industry sectors. Each sector will elect a representative to the Advisory Council which will in turn elect a Board of Directors. The IGSHPA staff and Director will report to the Board. The Board will meet regularly and, along with staff, determine IGSHPA’s priorites and timeline. This will bring IGSHPA much closer to the needs of its membership.
The new look of IGSHPA 2.0 is the culmination of a long process of self examination facilitated by Tecker International, a consulting firm. The challenge was to find a way to make a university-based association more responsive to the business needs of its membership. The new bylaws that were developed will give IGSHPA membership a real voice in the operation, and more input in the direction of their organization. Along with this voice, however, comes more responsibility.
IGSHPA 2.0 will require greater volunteer participation from membership to fill positions on the Advisory Council, Board, and Committees. The new structure guarantees a broader, and more equal representation of its membership categories. IGSHPA needs you to take an active role in YOUR organization!
IGSHPA 2014 Conference- My Two Cents!
There was a wealth of excellent material presented at the IGSHPA 2014 Conference in Baltimore. Unfortuntely, a two day conference with so may presentors means sessions must run concurrently. Thanks to the internet and a technologically gifted staff, we all have a chance to catch up on the sessions we missed by visiting the IGSHPA website to view the presentation slides. I’ve “linked” to some of the presentations in this post. Video recordings of the sessions will also be available soon.
Finally, I think it is time to trash the habit of comparing geothermal heat pumps to “conventional” systems. To prospective customers this might give the impression that geothermal is somehow “unconventional.” The geothermal heat pump industry has successful installations dating back more than 40 years. We have trade organizations like IGSHPA, GEO (formerly GHPC), and NGWA that date back more than 20. I think our industry has earned its right to be considered a “conventional” choice. Let’s put ourselves in the “conventional” club and make our comparisons using terms like more efficient, greener, and most comfortable!