Geothermal heating has been around since ancient Rome, the technology since the 1950s, and the United States produces the largest amount of geothermal energy in the world. Need a refresher on what geothermal is? The Earth stores 47 percent of the solar energy that reaches us. Geothermal technology is how you get the energy out of the Earth. Geothermal heating and cooling systems, also called ground source heat pumps, earth source heat pumps, or geothermal heat pumps, run pipes a few feet below the earth’s surface where the temperature is warmer than the outside air. These pipes heat up and transfer water or a coolant back to the home and warm the air. They work in the opposite direction in the summer to cool. So, why hasn’t geothermal heating become a viable energy resource like wind and solar power? Cost.
Although the purchase and installation cost of a residential geothermal heat pump system is often higher than that of other heating and cooling systems, properly sized and installed geothermal heat pump systems deliver more energy per unit consumed than conventional systems.
- According to the Department of Energy, geothermal heat pumps can be anywhere from 300 to 600 percent efficient even in harsh temperatures, outperforming every other green technology heating and cooling system.
- Additionally, the Department of Energy states, geothermal systems use 25 to 50 percent less electricity than conventional cooling systems.
- As far as the environmental impact, data supplied by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Geothermal Technologies shows a standard residential geothermal system produces approximately one less pound of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every hour of use. Over 20 years, the carbon footprint reduction would be equivalent to planting 120,000 acres of trees or converting over 58,000 cars to zero emission vehicles.
The average cost of a geothermal heat pump system varies and depends on factors such as climate, soil conditions, the system features you choose, and available financing and incentives.
System features need to be reviewed carefully, because many can save you even more money in the long run. An example of a system feature that would help with further savings is a “desuperheater” which can heat household water.
Recouping your initial investment varies in a new or an existing home, but takes two to 10 years through lower utility bills. You might also consider including the costs in a new mortgage, a refinanced mortgage or a home equity loan.
Look to federal, state and local governments; providers such as NYSERDA; and banks or mortgage companies who offer energy-efficient mortgage loans for energy-saving home improvements.
Popular Mechanics used this example in its “The Guide to Home Geothermal Energy” to show how geothermal heating and cooling can save money.
A typical 2,000-square-foot home in Commack, N.Y., was retrofitted with a geothermal system. Tax credits, the inefficiency of the existing system and a low-interest loan combined to create immediate savings. The monthly payment is now $24 lower than the old monthly expense.
Installation cost: $30,000 - - $11,000 (tax credit) = $19,000
Annual costs: $3,945 (old system) - - $2,076 (geothermal) = $1,869 saved
Payback period: $19,000 / $1,869 = 10.17 years
Monthly fuel costs for old system: $329
Monthly geothermal costs: $173 (power) + $132 (loan) = $305
If you have decided to use the geothermal heating system, you should find a qualified installer to do the work for you. You may contact your local utility firm, the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association or the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium for information on professional installers in Western New York.