Sunday, January 01, 2006

Examining Geo Thermal Heating/Cooling: the Natural Solution

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

The New York Times talks about geo thermal heating today but has little real information so I will fill in the gaps.

From the NYT:
Energy legislation last summer increased the financial support for these systems. The law provides for $300 in federal tax incentives and includes a provision allowing for a $2,000 federal incentive for home improvements that reduce energy costs by more than 50 percent. Geothermal systems can trim 30 percent to 75 percent of the cost to heat and cool, so many installations would qualify.

But the biggest driver is the cost of fossil fuel. With the Energy Department predicting huge jumps in residential oil and natural gas costs for winter heating - 27 percent for oil and 41 percent for gas - shipments of geothermal pumps doubled during the last three months, Ms. Commins said.

Now, "the front-end costs are within reach," said Roy Mink, director of the Energy Department's geothermal program. At the same time, he said, "there's more competition for geothermal business, and that's driving down the price of installing them by 10 percent."
The article lauds this system and it is a good system to try installing. Coupled with a large solar/wind array and one can live free of the system and stresses while still enjoying that wonderful bubble technology and civilization and cheap fossil fuels have made us accustomed to.

Explaning this system is easier with diagrams. I got some of the raw material from these sites, all of which are good places to visit: Alliant Energy Geothermal Systems or International Groundsource Heat Pump Association. Googling "geothermal heating systems" brings up quite a few websites, too.

Here is an aerial view of a horizontal system layout which is installed just like any septic system, only it is over 4' deep, 5' in the far north. It has to be below the frostline or it won't work well in winter, obviously, colder than freezing is no good. But the general idea is, the ground below a certain level (in Alaska, more than 12' down!) is fairly stable in temperature. So if you run a glyerine/water fluid through a series of pipes buried in the warmer sublayers of earth, the pumping action caused the fluid to warm up in winter or cool off in summer, in other words, you pump in opposite directions during the seasonal changes.

Where there isn't enough earth to run pipes, the more expensive way is to drill deep holes.

The water travels down and then is pulled back up and the heat exchange happens during this process. For example, since a drilling rig is quite large, one can drill in the front yard of a house, after checking for gas lines and water lines, of course, and then rig up the system that way though, of course, building with this in mind is much better than retrofitting, of course. The well we drilled on our mountain for water went down over 500' and cost us $3500 ten years ago so you can see, it isn't cheap.

Calculating how many feet of pipe one needs for either system is complicated. Square footage to heat, how well the house is insulated and type of soil/rock and even the moisture level matters and must be figured out, there are computer programs that do this available, but again, it isn't cheap because you need a geologist if one is drilling deep, for example.

I do a lot of backhoe work and know the layers and qualities of the top 10' of people's property and have dug in sand, loam, mixed rock and heavy shale, for example. Time digging and barriers encountered like digging up rocks bigger than bathtubs or Volkswagens costs more and shale, for example, is pure hell. I intend to eventually install this sort of system. My own mountain has both tons of room and is well hydrolated so it is an excellent site to use this system. I already have infloor heating tubes installed so hooking up a hot water/cold air in summer exchange system will be easy and excavation and pipe laying costs will be minimal since I can do all that, myself.

But is is a very ambitious project.

This is the inside the house part of the system, the pumps and coils and compressors. It operates just like your refrigerator. Note that airconditioners and refrigerators produce a lot of heat. The heat pumped out during heatwaves from airconditioners is very bad for the environment and should be eliminated just to save our planet if nothing else! The heat in summer isn't shoved outside to roast the neighbors, it is recycled into the earth! In winter, the evaporator becomes a humidifier, everything is in reverse, same system, just switch to the opposite pumps and away you go!

Easy as can be!

The compressor uses up a good amount of energy, of course. In my case, since I heat right now with wood from the forest, it costs me next to nothing to heat but I have to be around all the time to keep the place warm which is a major bummer. So even though my electrical bill might be $1,200 a year if I use this system, it is better than paying triple that for heating and cooling using traditional modern methods.

This system should definitely be used in the deep South. Right now, we are burning up massive amounts of fossil fuels in the form of coal and natural gas, in order to provide massive amounts of electricity to cool down everyone. And all those aircompressors are flooding the enviroment with hot air, a very bad thing indeed.

For the past ten years, we should have mandated all new multi-family buildings have this geothermal system but of course, this was put off, disasterously, in the deluded belief, there would never be an energy crisis.

From Stockholm:
Concerned with rising prices, a Swedish coop has switched to a heat pump system in a move that could set a precedent in chilly Stockholm.

Electrically driven, the system works by drawing geothermal heat from a hole drilled in the bedrock below the coop. The hole contains a pipe filled with liquid (70% water and 30% ethanol). The liquid is circulated by the pump, with the heat then transferred into the water borne central heating and hot water system.

At current prices, the coop would consume $30,000 annually in heating oil. With the new system costing only $10,500 annually, the coop stands to save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years.

A combination of high-energy prices, cold temperatures and estate values could result in more coops making the switch to heat pumps – which may not be welcome news to Fortum, the Finnish energy company that owns half of the district heating system and oversaw a 40% rise in energy prices since 2002.
Just to keep balance of payments under control it behooves us all to change over our systems today!

There is worse, just look at the agony going on tonight in Europe, thanks to a natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine! From the BBC:
Russian gas supplies to Ukraine will be cut at 0700 GMT on Sunday, state-owned firm Gazprom announced after last-ditch talks failed to settle a price dispute.
The row erupted after Ukraine rejected Russian plans for a 460% price rise.
A shot across our prow! After Enron reamed out California, after all the oil companies reamed us out after the hurricanes, anyone who thinks they won't get reamed out will be screwed all to hell one fine day. So investing in systems that protect oneself from this sort of energy chaos is well worth it.

In particular, schools and businesses should be required to use these systems. Right now, they are major energy wasters, many are mostly windows with nearly no walls and recapturing and recycling the heat or cold from inside as well as in the earth should be standard for all modern buildings. Most architecture is insane recklessness predicated on irresponsible consumtion of nonrenewable resources.

Geothermal is just one more key element in retrofitting America for tomorrow. Time's awasting! Look at how destabilized the world's ecosystems are thanks to human abuse of fossil fuel energy systems!
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