Aargh! Everyone says how great geothermal energy is!
It’s the ultimate clean energy! If British Columbia invested in geothermal instead of the Site C Dam, we could achieve the same energy output without all that flooding! (That’s on an industrial scale, of course.)
Well, if geothermal is so @#$%^&* great, why do we still buy oil and gas furnaces? Huh? Why aren’t we getting off fossil fuels?
Geothermal energy works because about 10 feet below the surface, the earth stays more or less the same temperature all year round. In winter it is warmer down there. In summer it is cooler down there. That means you can pump that heat into your house in the winter and out of your house in the summer. Awesome!
These systems use heat pumps sort of like your refrigerator. A heat pump can move heat from the air into your house or from your house out into the air. That’s called an air-to-air heat pump or airsource heat pump. Geothermal, or groundsource, heat pumps can move more heat because of that constant temperature in the earth.
I visited a friend of the family last week who has had a geothermal system for 12 years. His name is Dave and he is an engineer. He did a lot of the work himself, so it only cost him about $7400. Since then his home has been running on clean energy. Yay!
One of the problems I hear about with groundsource heat pumps is maintenance. Apparently, that is because the pump has to work hard to pump the fluid down a long pipe and back again. For a house like ours, about 2000 square feet, you need about 200 feet of pipe. It can be drilled vertically into the ground, or lain horizontally under your back yard.
Dave seems to have solved the maintenance problem. His system uses an open loop. Instead of pumping fluid or water into the earth and back, Dave extracts water from a hole right under his basement floor, runs it through the heat pump a few times, and then pipes it downstream at a slightly different temperature. Watch this:
If you are really interested, here are a few illustrations from the manual of Dave’s heat pump circa 2000:
Now, to the question. Why don’t we buy more heat pumps?
Because gas is too cheap.
Gas is so cheap right now that even home energy efficiency upgrades are hard to justify when you’re trying to make ends meet. In my heat pump post last week, Clay Martin wrote that this is partly due to the (questionable) practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) which has brought more gas to market. Our BC government is promoting the natural gas industry as hard as they can. That’s fine only if we ignore the climbing costs of climate change and the risks of fracking. We’ll pay for these choices later but for now, with governments either in denial (federal), or playing for both teams (Provincial), there is little reason for homeowners to go green.
Dave’s homemade system would have saved him a lot of money if gas prices had stayed where they were 12 years ago. As it stands, he says he is paying about the same in electricity bills to run his system as he would have been if he had kept his gas furnace! He doesn’t mind that because lowering his carbon footprint is important to him, but most of us feel too overwhelmed by daily life to do much more than replace our aging furnace with a more efficient gas one.
In British Columbia where we produce most of our electrical power sustainably with hydro-electric dams, heat pumps are the natural choice for a low-carbon future. However, they will get left on the shelf until governments take climate change and the international agreements to deal with it seriously.
Speaking of politics, can you guess how Dave feels about living in a Federal riding with a Conservative Member of Parliament? Well, that’s him standing at a busy intersection with every piece of “junk mail” Randy Kamp ever sent to him.
Some people think he is a bit of a nut. But he has such a positive energy it’s hard not to admire his willingness to stand up and protest a government that has called people like him foreign-funded “radicals” and increased the powers of the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS).
And the flyers? They were, in fact, paid for by federal taxes. The rule is they have to contain some information that can pass as keeping constituents informed. The rest, apparently, can be advertising for the Conservative Party and bashing other parties. It’s a little like what I just did with this post about geothermal energy when I got political at the end.
Sorry about that, but I learned from the best. I hope you can take some comfort in the fact that you did not pay for this post.
The part of these flyers that made my blood boil was the “surveys” which were straight out of 1984.
I can’t imagine many constituents actually took advantage of the free postage and mailed back their responses, but that wasn’t their real purpose anyway. It’s seriously manipulative stuff.
Our current Conservative candidate told Dave that this was not relevant to his campaign even though he worked in the MP’s office. Apparently he said, “that all comes from Ottawa.”
Next week: I promise to share the results of years of consideration into what heating/cooling system we will install in Hammond Forever House. I’ll give you a hint, it’s not going to burn gas.