Can Natural Gas Giants Switch to Geothermal?

YES, THEY CAN. Geothermal is quickly becoming the favorable path to profits for energy utilities. Here’s the how and why.

Corporations are bound to perform in a fiscally responsible way for their stockholders. When a corporation has a surplus of product such as natural gas (NG), they must find a way to sell it — unless they find something else in good supply that makes more money for the same effort. That something is quickly becoming geothermal ground loops. Geothermal exchangers are essentially fuel pipelines providing a virtually endless supply of stored solar thermal energy from the earth.

Last year, Renewable Energy World featured an article explaining that Ontario had released their Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP). Over the last six or seven months, good things have begun to take place. The Ontario Geothermal Association’s Conference on February 21 and 22 will feature Ontario’s Minister of Environment, Glen Murray, along with Malini Giridhar, Vice President of Market Development and Public and Government Affairs, Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. The title of Malini Giridhar’s presentation is, “Can a Natural Gas Utility Change the Rules for Geothermal?”

This could be big.

A geothermal exchanger pipe system is the essence of renewable and sustainable; like that “trick faucet” we’ve all seen, levitating in midair with a seemingly unlimited supply of water pouring into the bucket. We all know that there is a clear plastic line going up the center of the water column that serves to feed the water, and hold the faucet in “midair.”

A geothermal pipe system makes a “round-trip,” while gas piping is a “one-way trip.” The geothermal heat pump simply transfers heat with the water in the pipe, which then goes back to the earth for more energy. The gas furnace burns-up its fuel and returns nothing except more emissions to the atmosphere.

It’s Like Magic

NG has three strikes against it:

  1. It is consumable (consumed in the process of creating heat)
  2. It creates GHG emissions (all combustion heating creates GHGs)
  3. It is subject to carbon taxes

The third strike mentions carbon tax. Fuels subject to carbon tax will become too expensive soon, and customers will be forced to look for another energy source.

Here’s the dilemma for the NG company; if its customer puts in their own geothermal system, the customer gets the energy free, forever. That’s a loss of income stream for the utility. The problem with this scenario for the customer, is that they may need to pay $10,000 to $15,000 or more for the geothermal piping, and that’s a lot to pay up front, no matter how wonderful the free energy is.

So the NG company can put in the geothermal piping for their customers, own it (just like the NG pipe), and charge the customer a monthly fee, just like our cable/internet charges. They are still selling energy, and it’s a win for both the NG company, and the customer. This goes for propane and oil companies also. Rather than tanks on site, and fuel delivery costs, they would install and charge a service fee for the geothermal piping connection.

Geothermal heat pumps are the polar opposite of NG:

  1. Geothermal is renewable (solar energy in the earth is continually replenished)
  2. Geothermal creates no GHG emissions (no combustion on site)

And with the benefit of no carbon taxes, it’s only going to become more and more affordable.

As NG utilities consider the costs for pipelines, it’s becoming easier to see why an energy utility would find it attractive to harvest free solar thermal energy, and have the ability to charge a monthly service charge. This is a public service with benefits for all involved.

The consumer has access to a less expensive fuel source. Like any infrastructure project, geothermal piping may be too expensive for the average consumer unless the first cost is distributed over a long period. With a utility provider, the cost can be paid through reasonable monthly service and maintenance charges.

Ultimately, the energy utility will have a new and improved customer base. Many of these customers may have been too far away from the main NG pipeline to cost-effectively connect them, and these customers may be the first to have geothermal piping provided by an energy utility. With the geothermal pipelines, the fuel source (the earth) is right at each and every property. The renewable solar thermal energy just needs to be properly harvested from the earth, and connected to a heat pump so that it can be used.

GHGs are eliminated on-site, moving all of us along toward the goal of reduced emissions.

The Best of All Worlds

Geothermal heating and cooling technology is the missing link in the NetZero effort. As a society, we are successfully moving toward NetZero Energy consumption. But if we’re doing that while still utilizing combustion heating in our homes and businesses, then the effort for which the world is working (reduction of GHG emissions) is lost. The whole point is reducing emissions. Geothermal serves all parts of the effort with supreme effectiveness.

Whether a person believes any of the GHG emissions/global warming story or not makes no real difference in the effectiveness and genius of geothermal heating and cooling. Remember that geothermal cooling and heating provides all of the benefits that the wealthy and privileged want (and get) in their heating and cooling systems;

  • The quietest and most comfortable system (nothing outside to make noise)
  • Provides either hydronic (floor or ceiling) or forced air cooling and heating
  • Is Highly Energy Efficient (rated most efficient in the world by the US Department of Energy)
  • Eliminates fresh water consumption (from cooling towers, typical for commercial applications)
  • Provides storm proofing (again, no outside equipment)
  • Clears up valuable roof-space and other real-estate (needed for outside equipment)
  • Lasts a Long Time (no outside equipment to weather-away)
  • Eliminates on-site greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (replaces the boiler)

Find Out More

Geothermal exchanger-sourced buildings fit the worldwide model of sustainability perfectly. A geothermal building uses less energy than any other HVAC system, whether equipped with central chiller plants or distributed heat pumps. They use renewable energy, pumped to and from the earth, eliminate on-site combustion heating, and eliminate fresh water consumption related to cooling tower operation. With no cooling towers, the normal monthly chemical maintenance and cleanings are eliminated. Geothermal equipment lasts longer, and a geothermal heat pump does both heating and cooling (furnace only heats).

How does a Natural Gas Utility fit into Geothermal? Find out at the Ontario Geothermal Association’s Annual Conference, Feb. 21-22.

You’ll get to hear Enbridge Gas Distribution’s Malini Giridhar answer the question, “Can a Natural Gas Utility Change the Rules for #Geothermal?”

Jay is presenting in a technical session at AHR 2017 in Las Vegas on the subject of cooling tower elimination through geothermal exchange.

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