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The IGSHPA 2014 Conference was held in BaltimoreThe 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.

Solar power generation can have a negative impact on an elecric utility's daily load profile. Geothermal heat pumps can reduce peak loads and add needed off peak demand.

The impact of solar on an electric utility’s daily load profile

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

IGSHPA 2014 Conference- Balancing Energy Sources

Slide from Cary Smith’s (Sound Geothermal) presentation

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.

For some really progressive examples, check out the presentation slides from Jeff Urlaub and Lynn Mueller, Cary Smith, Ed Lohrenz and Steve Hamstra.

4. Geothermal is Finding it’s Place in Net Zero

Net Zero Schools- Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Texas has a geothermal hvac systemGeothermal 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 IGSHPA 2015 Conference will be held in Kansas City, Missouri

The IGSHPA 2015 Conference will be held in Kansas City, Missouri

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!

IGSHPA 2014 Conference- IGSHPA received a Governor's Citation from Maryland Governor O'Malley

IGSHPA received a Governor’s Citation from Maryland Governor O’Malley at the conference

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!






Why Geothermal?

Why Geothermal? In a word- comfort. Comfort was a common theme at the IGSHPA (International Ground Source Heat Pump Association) conference held in Las Vegas in October. This year noted industry experts and professionals presented on topics ranging from marketing to state of the art technological breakthroughs. Several speakers at the conference explained, technically, why Geothermal is comfortable.

In the context of traditional HVAC systems, comfort usually refers to feeling satisfied with respect to temperature and humidity regardless of the weather outside. A properly installed geothermal system will be comfortable. Consistent, even temperatures and humidty control are just a small part of why GHP’s  have a long track record of satisfied customers. Having lived and worked in Geothermal buildings for over 18 years, I think there are other, equally compelling reasons why Geo is “comfortable”.

1. Comfort that utility bills will be low. There is a certain financial peace of mind that comes from the technical fact that, for every unit of energy purchased from the local utility, Mother Nature will kick in several more units free of charge! In heating this results in efficiencies that often exceed 400%! Compare this to the maximum efficiency that could even theoretically be achieved by the fossil fuel burning systems- 100%. In cooling the expected 30 to 50 percent advantage of Geo comes because rejecting the interior building heat to the cooler earth temperatures is a much more efficient method of heat exchange than using the warmer outside air.

2.Comfort that you will not be on a first name basis with the dispatcher at the local heating company. Again, a system installed by qualified professionals will typically not require even yearly maintenance. Regular attention to filter changing is all that a homeowner need worry about in the short term. Commercial buildings may require some other maintenance associated with large systems, but far less than any other comparable HVAC system. Unlike traditional air cooled systems, the change of seasons does not present any particular issues because the equipment for most GHP systems is typically installed inside the house or building and not subject to extreme weather conditions. [click to continue…]


Carbon Dioxide Milestone Passed at Mauna Loa

By John Turley

N.O.A.A. scientists reported on May 9th that carbon dioxide had reached an average daily level of 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time since they began tracking it 55 years ago.  The reading was taken at the Mauna Loa meteorological observatory in Hawaii, a site originally chosen for its distance from both urban and forest influences.  Carbon dioxide is one of the main greenhouse gases associated with the global warming debate.  The milestone went almost unnoticed by the mainstream media, but did not get by former Vice President Al Gore, who took the opportunity to post (paraphrasing) that global warming resulting from the buildup of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere was the cause of climatological disasters like the recent flooding in Australia, Superstorm Sandy, and last year’s severe droughts.

Since Charles Keeling began overseeing the collection of carbon dioxide data in 1958 at Mauna Loa, C02 has increased from 280 ppm to its present record level.  Keeling, a renowned professor of oceanography at Scripps Institute, became famous for the Keeling curve, a graphical representation of the trend.

The Keeling Curve

The Keeling Curve


To put this in perspective, The IEA (International Energy Agency) forecasts in the “World Energy Outlook”  that CO2 must be limited to 450 ppm to have an 80% probability of average global temperatures rising only 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The IEA recently reported that there have been minimal gains in reducing carbon dioxide emissions over the past 20 years despite an estimated 2 trillion dollar investment in renewable energy technologies over the same period.   Progress from the implementation of renewable energy sources is being countered by the continued importance of fossil fuels to energy production, particularly the use of coal in the developing economies.

To graphically chart this, the IEA  created the “Carbon Intensity Index” which plots tons of carbon dioxide released per unit of energy supplied by the energy sector against percentage changes in average global temperatures.

[click to continue…]


By John Turley

A local school district in Ohio recently scrapped plans to employ ground source heat pumps in a new school slated to be built this year.  The mechanical engineer, with the district’s blessing, chose instead a traditional boiler/tower water source heat pump system.     The decision was based on recent gas bill information from an existing school of similar size nearby.  The engineer’s analysis, based on trending current gas prices over the life of the building reportedly put the breakeven point on the estimated cost premium for Geothermal too far into the future.  Is this shortsighted? Maybe.  The history of natural gas prices over the past 30 years has been characterized by wild price swings, based on factors such as production, demand and weather.

What has changed?  Why would a school district lock into a fuel source that could fluctuate greatly, from a cost standpoint, over the building’s expected 50 year life? The answer lies in the growing evidence that certain shale rich areas, like Ohio, sit on incredible long term reserves of oil and natural gas that are now producible using hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) technologies. Some say these new sources of natural gas could mean low prices for decades to come- or even longer.  Whether or not this is true will depend on actual production and competition for this resource from other industries, some of which are in their infancy.  Selling gas to the HVAC markets was an easy early market for the producers of the gas “bonanza” because the infrastructure was already in place.  The natural price reaction to increased supply was, of course, lower prices.

Ohio is just beginning to develop its shale resources.  There have been 268 shale wells drilled in Ohio to date with just 76 in production.  It is estimated that there will be 2,250 wells drilled by 2015!  The impact shale gas will have on the payback calculations for ground source heat pumps will depend on energy markets, the mix of oil and gas products ultimately produced, and environmental and regulatory factors

Drilling Rig in Carroll County, Ohio- Google Images

Drilling Rig in Carroll County, Ohio- Google Images

Indeed, the evidence points to some tremendous potential for natural gas.  According to the EIA (Energy Information Administration), production of natural gas (total US) from shale wells increased from 1,990,145 million cubic feet in 2007 to 8.500,983 million cubic feet in 2011, a factor of more than 4.  Over the same period, the price of natural gas delivered to commercial customers (average U.S.) decreased from $11.34 to $8.92, or over 21%.  Recent commercial prices in Ohio have been even lower.  The data reflects the production impact of states like Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania that have been fracking shale formations for several years, and does not include a significant contribution from Ohio over this period.  Natural gas, once described as a “bridge” fuel to other power sources, is now being described as a “destination” fuel, especially for electricity production, where it is more desirable than coal because it burns cleaner, resulting in a smaller carbon footprint.

Reason 1. The Gas/Oil Product Mix

The market for shale gas will be impacted by many factors.  One factor will be the type of gas actually found and produced. The dry methane used in gas- fired HVAC equipment is just one of the products being captured as a result of the fracking boom.  In addition to methane, oil and “wet” gases (butane, propane, etc), used in other markets, also make up a large portion of the current production mix.  The ultimate resource mix is not known at this time. [click to continue…]

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