Canadians tap into geothermal demand
We are an international leader when it comes to installing ground source systems
Use of environmentally friendly and energy-efficient ground-source heat pumps, which involve drilling through the earth’s crust, has become increasingly popular as fuel prices climb.
The Montreal-based Canadian GeoExchange Coalition — which works with the federal government to promote, regulate and develop geothermal technology and training for government and industry, as well as certify its heating and cooling systems — has watched the domestic earth-energy market expand by 40 and 55 per cent annually over each of the past few years. That compares with eight to 12 per cent growth in the United States.
“Canada is the fastest-growing market in the world, according to the International Energy Agency,” coalition vice-president Ted Kantrowitz said last week after returning from the agency’s conference in Switzerland.
Although less than one per cent of Canadian homes currently use geothermal energy, which taps into the ground’s natural heating and cooling properties, Kantrowitz said, “We see very bright days ahead for this industry.”
A study conducted by his coalition found combined sales of residential and industrial-size geothermal systems across Canada growing considerably. Revenue for 2006, the most recent data available, totalled about $37.9 million, an increase of 88 per cent over 2004.
The International Ground Source Heat Pump Association lauds geothermal technology as one of the most efficient residential heating and cooling systems available, with heating efficiencies 50 to 70 per cent higher than other heating systems and cooling efficiencies 20 to 40 per cent higher than conventional air conditioners.
Despite the startup costs — a geothermal system is about $20,000 compared with the average $9,600 price for installing a conventional furnace system — the annual savings with earth energy systems usually begin by the third year after installation.
“Installation costs can vary significantly based on factors such as soil type, availability of surface or groundwater and quality of home insulation,” says Kantrowitz.
Homeowners are beginning to appreciate the clean, renewable and efficient benefits of the system.
“I’ve been installing geothermal systems for the past 20 years or more,” says Bob Bourbeau, a local geothermal contractor and consultant. “It’s nothing new, (it’s) just more affordable now.”
“The general rule of thumb in the industry is that the energy required to heat a house is 20 to 30 per cent less” with a geothermal system compared with baseboard electric radiant heating, says Al Clark of Natural Resources Canada. To date, 23,371 Canadians (5,728 nationally in April alone) have taken advantage of grants through that program between April 2007 and the end of March 2008.
Suzanne Deschênes, chief of the department’s existing housing programs, said from Ottawa that 102,834 Canadian homeowners had pre-retrofit assessments done in the first full year of the ecoENERGY Retrofit program launched on April 1, 2007.
At last count, 17,662 applicants have completed their retrofits with a national average grant of $1,050. Those federal subsidies range from $200 to $5,000.
Deschênes credits those conversions with annual energy savings of 23 per cent along with annual greenhouse gas reductions of 3.4 tonnes per house a year.
Canwest News Service