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If you can think back to your middle school days, you’ll remember that it’s pretty hot and steamy underneath Earth’s surface. This high temperature is due to magma below the crust. Though outdoor temperatures may change depending on the season, underground temperatures remain relatively consistent due to Earth’s insulation. You’ll find this temperature consistency a mere 4-6 feet below the surface. When magma stays trapped in the Earth’s surface, it can heat underground water. These hot water pools that remain underground are called geothermal reservoirs, and can be harnessed to heat and cool homes and businesses via geothermal heat pumps. Geothermal heating is created when natural heat is pulled to the Earth’s surface. This heat can also be used for electrical purposes. Keep in mind that geothermal HVAC systems have been used for more than 60 years in the U.S.—this is a proven method to cut down on utility bills, consolidate heating/cooling, and tap into a renewable resource. This guide will cover the advantages of geothermal energy as well as a breakdown of how this process works.
Geothermal Heat Pump and Geothermal System
A geothermal heat pump is composed of loops of buried pipes that change function depending on the season. In colder months, heat from the ground is pulled into homes and circulated through a duct system. The system reverses in warmer months; a home’s heat is picked up by the circulating fluids inside the pipes and transferred into the Earth. With a heat pump, an air delivery system uses ducts and a heat exchanger buried in the ground to transfer this heat. A geothermal system is made up of an indoor handling unit, underground pipes (called an ‘Earth loop’), and a pump to reinjection well. The pipes in this system are composed of polyethylene and can be buried vertically or horizontally depending on your space requirements. If an aquifer is available, you also have the option to design an ‘open loop’ system. ‘Open loop’ means a well is drilled into the underground water. Water is pumped up, runs past a heat exchanger and returns to the same aquifer through reinjection. A geothermal heating and cooling system is composed of the heat-pump unit, a liquid heat-exchanger medium, and an air-delivery system (ductwork) or radiant heating.
What is Geothermal Energy?
Geothermal energy is the energy stored as heat beneath the Earth’s surface. Geothermal springs have been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans, Romans, and Chinese to heat water for cooking and bathing, but we’ve come a long way. We can now utilize geothermal energy to generate electricity through power plants, one of the many advantages of geothermal energy. Once a geothermal resource is identified, wells are drilled a few kilometers deep and the hot water is extracted. Electricity-generating power plants convert hydrothermal fluids to electricity. Depending on the state of the fluid and temperature, this conversion takes place via dry steam, flash steam or a binary cycle. The dry steam method extracts steam out of fractures in the ground and harvests hot water and steam that can then drive turbines on electricity generators.
Advantages of Geothermal Energy
Great for the planet
If you’re looking into geothermal heating and cooling or geothermal energy for electrical appliances, keep in mind that it doesn’t involve any form of combustion. This is one of the best advantages of geothermal energy! Geothermal has less greenhouse gas emissions, and binary geothermal power plants release NO greenhouse gases. Geothermal power plants generate 1/8th of the CO2 emissions associates with typical coal power plants. The geothermal heat pumps used for heating and cooling are also considered one of the most efficient options available. This status is due to their low electricity requirement (electricity is only used to operate the unit’s fan, compressor and pump). Plus, geothermal energy has a small land-use footprint, producing huge amounts of electricity without taking up much space. Even the United States Environmental Protection Agency agrees that geothermal heating and cooling is the most environmentally-safe and cost-effective option on the market.
Geothermal is renewable
Many ask, ‘is geothermal energy renewable?’ Yes! And it’s one of the major selling points of this option. As a base-load renewable power source, production takes place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. No matter the weather, these power plants can operate. It’s expected that geothermal will overpower coal in the traditional utility system in the years to come, presenting a greener option that’s more scalable. Smaller plants can be set up and tailored to applications in individual communities. With geothermal reservoirs naturally replenished, we don’t have to worry about these sources running dry. In fact, geothermal energy will be around for as long as Earth exists.
These geothermal power plants are expected to crop up in more rural areas, creating jobs in smaller cities that rarely experience this level of employment growth. In 2012, a power complex built in Imperial Valley, CA created jobs for 323 workers. The investment cost $1 billion and took four years to complete, but there were 57 jobs that opened up after the project was completed, including maintenance, operations and engineering. Advantages of geothermal energy can be long-term.
Geothermal is limitless
No matter where you live, you have access to Earth’s internal heat. The tricky part is finding a way to extract this heat, but technological advancements have made this extraction process easier. Geothermal heat pumps, for example, have made it possible for people to harvest hot water from reservoirs below the surface to heat homes and businesses. Electricity conversion requires more advanced resources, but industry professionals are working to makes this process easier for everyone.
Utility bill savings
There is a high up-front cost for geothermal energy systems, mostly due to the expensive buried loop systems that are required. However, this initial cost is offset by the savings you’ll receive in the long run. Once the system is running, utility bills can decrease by up to 50%, one of the most popular advantages of geothermal energy In fact, a 30%-60% savings on heating and 25%-50% saving on cooling can cover the initial cost within three years. Lower maintenance costs mean it can be installed and then left alone for years afterward. To alleviate the financial strain, many institutions offer to tie the upfront cost of installation to monthly mortgage remittances or other interest financing options. A 2,000 square-foot home can be heated and cooled for as little as $1/day with a geothermal system. Plus, you can have it set up to supplement your home’s conventional water heater, saving you up to 30% on hot water costs every year. With a simple modification, you can have your geothermal system generating some, if not all, of your hot water. Hot water is stored in your water heater for later use, and heat extracted from the building is sent to the water heater during the cooling cycle. This savings calculator tells you how much you can expect to save by switching to geothermal energy.
High efficiency and low maintenance
The great thing about geothermal heat pumps is that they’re incredibly efficient (using only 25%-50% electric power for geothermal heating and cooling). The life expectancy is much higher for a geothermal system’s parts compared to other heating and cooling mechanisms. Because they have few mobile parts and are housed in a building, they can last a lot longer. The pipes have a warranty of up to 25 years, though the system can only last up to 20 years. Where other options might require frequent maintenance, a geothermal system only needs periodic checks, annual coil cleaning and filter changes when installed properly. A geothermal heat pump’s efficiency is determined by its coefficient of performance (COP), a ratio that compares how much energy the system moves to how much it uses. With a geothermal heat pump, you can expect your COPs to be between 3.0 and 5.0. For every unit of energy used to power the system, 3-5 units are supplied as heat.
Geothermal tax credit
If you purchased a and installed a geothermal system prior, you can claim a credit of 30% of qualified expenditures for a system that serves a dwelling unit located in the U.S. on your purchase for your personal tax credit. This system must be owned and used as a residence by the taxpayer. This federal tax credit includes all expenditures related to labor costs for on-site preparation, assembly or original system installation, and piping/wiring to interconnect a system to the home. According to energy.gov, “if the federal tax credit exceeds tax liability, the excess amount may be carried forward to the succeeding taxable year”. For geothermal system qualification, your system must have been installed prior to 2017. There is no maximum credit for systems placed in service after 2008, but the geothermal heat pump must meet federal Energy Star criteria. To qualify for geothermal tax credit 2017, your system must have been placed in service on or after January 1, 2008 and on or before December 31, 2016. Finally, the home served by the system does not have to be the taxpayer’s principle residence.
Other advantages of geothermal energy
- No threat of combustion
- Clean/safe (no odors or carbon monoxide)
- Heats and cools home evenly
- Provides dehumidified air in the summer
- Power output can be predicted
- No fuel required
Get Started Today!
If you’re interested in a more thorough look into the advantages of geothermal energy, contact us. We would love to help you get set up with a geothermal heating and cooling system or answer any questions you may have.