Ontario’s need to conserve electricity may prove good news for the geothermal industry.
It comes down to the simple reality that conservation is considerably easier than expanding generation, reported Andrew Pride, vice president, conservation, for the Ontario Power Authority to 97delegates attending the fourth annual Ontario Geothermal Association Conference and AGM, held at the Hockley Valley Resort near Orangeville, Ont. Nov. 14-15.
But while things like air conditioning, household appliances and lighting have all benefited from OPA energy efficiency rebate programs, little attention has been paid to the potential savings from properly designed and installed ground source heating and cooling systems, noted Pride. “Geothermal hasn’t had its appropriate share of attention – let’s change that.”
OPA programs like Save-on-Energy – which offers rebates for the installation of energy efficient HVAC equipment, lighting, etc. – could be expanded to include ground source, he added.
Geothermal systems have a major benefit for the electrical utility in that they are all electric systems – the backup heat is typically electric, as are the pumps. “We can make things happen if they make sense for everyone,” said Pride. He suggested forming a working group with the OGA to pursue the issue.
This was welcome news to OGA members. Ground source heating and cooling “has been disregarded many times as a technology that is experimental, though it is in fact a proven, reliable technology when installed properly,” noted OGA vice president Jim Bolger (Waterloo Energy Products).
Geothermal heating has surged and waned over the years, sometimes boosted by short-term rebate programs.
Industry pioneer David Hatherton (WaterFurnace, Next Energy), who was honoured with the first OGA/HRAI Lifetime Achievement Award, remarked that “this is my fifth major wave.”
“You get in the troughs and people start pulling together,” he added. “There’s a new opportunity with the (establishment) of the OGA to design our own program… Hopefully, this time we can create our own wave.” Pointing to the lengthy list of geothermal experts speaking at the conference, he noted that: “There’s a whole depth of knowledge that wasn’t there before.”
A lack of unity and an inability to get the right information out to the public and regulators has been a problem for the industry, said Steve Smith (Enertech Global), part of a panel discussion on how to move the industry forward. “HRAI and OGA have made one heck of a step to moving forward with this,” he added.
The OGA formed a permanent partnership with the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) last year in which HRAI will handle the day-to-day administration of OGA and provide other support as required. It was a no-brainer for HRAI, noted Martin Luymes, HRAI director of programs and relations, because HRAI members wanted to see the organization become more involved in geothermal.
HRAI has also approached geothermal organizations in Alberta and B.C. with the goal of holding the first meeting of a national geothermal council by June, 2014. Luymes admitted, however, that those groups are “not convinced they should be part of a national group.”
The other key goal for the OGA/HRAI alliance is to convince the Ontario government “to create a more supportive environment for geothermal,” added Luymes.
Representatives from the OGA and HRAI subsequently met with OPA staff in December and were encouraged by the openness of the discussion, reported Luymes.
Real world success
Delegates heard a real-world success story from Gary Clarkson, senior project manager for Diversicare Canada, a company that operates retirement and assisted living homes – 39 buildings across Canada. They are typically five to seven stories high with 120 to 160 units.
Twelve years ago the company needed more buildings and management wanted “to go as green as possible as long as it doesn’t cost too much money,” recalled Clarkson. And while reducing operating costs was important, the company also believed green technology would “give us a leg up with municipalities,” something that has since proven true.
However, it wasn’t easy. The company’s original foray into geothermal was a design-build project. It became a nightmare, said Clarkson. “There was nobody keeping the geo contractor honest. We felt like we were getting smoke blown up our butts.” A consulting engineer hired to certify the project refused to sign off on it.
However, Diversicare didn’t abandon the technology. Four years ago the company joined the OGA and found a consultant that specialized in geothermal. And the properly designed and engineered systems installed since that time have worked properly with a payback projected at seven years.
He said the company sees the biggest resistance to geothermal from engineers at the request for proposal stage. They look at it with a simple payback calculation.
“What they don’t understand is that it’s not just the price of the borehole field.” The use of geothermal allows a redesign of the whole building. It no longer requires the structure and access for cooling towers. It reduces maintenance costs. It provides heat for snowmelt under the sidewalks.
Initially, the buildings were designed with backup boilers. However, they proved unnecessary and were replaced with heating coils in the DHW tanks for the few days in the middle of winter when extra heat was needed.
The buildings with geothermal are averaging 20 percent less energy use than those with conventional boiler/cooling tower systems, which on a large building is significant.
“Even with this data, our board of directors is still split on (geothermal),” says Clarkson. He hopes that two identical new buildings currently under construction – one with geothermal and one with a conventional system – will remove all doubt.
For more information on the OGA, visit www.ontariogeothermal.ca.