Contractors explore opportunities at Generation Geo

Generation Geo 2010, the first annual conference and expo of the Colorado Geo Energy Heat Pump Association (CoGEHPA), took place this September in Denver. It attracted 100 attendees from the geoexchange industry, including HVAC, geoexchange, drilling and design build contractors, home builders, mechanical engineers, architects and representatives of the Governor's Energy Office.

Generation Geo 2010, the first annual conference and expo of the Colorado Geo Energy Heat Pump Association (CoGEHPA), took place this September in Denver. It attracted 100 attendees from the geoexchange industry, including HVAC, geoexchange, drilling and design build contractors, home builders, mechanical engineers, architects and representatives of the Governor's Energy Office.

There were also exhibitors, showcasing products ranging from the latest heat pumps to services for evaluating and implementing energy-efficiency technologies.

According to Executive Director Ben Northcutt, the overall purpose of CoGEHPA is to promote a better understanding of geoexchange technology and foster its wider use throughout the state.

"This industry is full of committed people, but until now everyone involved in it has been too busy doing their daily work to pull together to create an industry organization like ours," said Northcutt.

To form the organization, Northcutt applied for and received a grant from the Governor's Energy Office. The organization was incorporated in January 2010.

"Now we can build a community of dependable resources," Northcutt explained. "We can share our common knowledge and experiences about successful designs and installation. Good information benefits all of us because news of bad installations travels fast."

Dirt as an energy source
Contractor Paula Slaughter of Slaughter Heating and Cooling, Delta, Colo., (just down the road from the famous Aspen and Vail ski resorts) is excited about marketing geoexchange.

"Geo energy comes from dirt, and I have a personal mission to make dirt as sexy a renewable energy source as wind and solar," said Slaughter.

Slaughter points out that selling geo energy has been difficult because the U.S. government has not recognized it for rebates as a renewable energy source. She also points out that dirt is everywhere, and it is always a dependable energy source (from the sun) for both heating and cooling applications, no matter where geographically.

One of the frustrations of the geo industry, according to Slaughter, is misinformation about where geoexchange is available. It's everywhere that the sun heats dirt. That is confused, though, by "hot rocks" energy sources, which rely upon hot water from below the earth. She explains that those sources are very geographically limited, and cannot provide heating like geo exchange does.

When asked how Slaughter Heating and Cooling got into the geo business, Slaughter explains that it was by fortunate accident.

"We inherited the maintenance of the Delta court house," said Slaughter. "It took us forever to figure out that system — it turned out to be one of the early "pump-and-dump" geothermal systems. That's where we learned the business.”

Another contractor happily in the geoexchange business by accident is drilling contractor Breck Richards of Tri Park Corp., Nucla, Colo. His company was originally in the uranium mining business.

"When the bottom fell out of uranium, I didn't know what we were going to do," stated Richards. "We learned to drill for geoexchange by working with Slaughter. I'm here at this conference to learn more so I can promote geo wherever I go."

During Generation Geo 2010, Craig Watts of MKK Consulting Engineers spoke to attendees about using geothermal heat pumps. Starting with the idea that the earth is the biggest solar collector imaginable, he explained how free energy is available by using one unit of energy from the utility with three to five units of energy free from the earth to get four to six units of energy for heating or cooling.

From a marketing perspective, Watts explained that geo heat pumps remove many of the factors that the public finds objectionable in conventional HVAC systems, such as fossil fuels, combustible gases, surface lines, flues, outside air intakes, and noisy equipment both indoors and out.

The added value of no noise is just another benefit of geo that Slaughter loves to market. "Rich people hate noise," she said about affluent Aspen, Colo. "They don't want to hear anything from their heating and cooling systems. And we can provide that with geoexchange (even though they don't seem to mind the noise that a kitchen full of commercial cooking equipment makes)."

A panel of homeowners also spoke to the conference attendees. For Laurie Wallace, the overwhelming benefit of geoexchange is comfort.

"Our house is incredibly comfortable, whether we're heating or cooling," said Wallace. "And the best part is we aren't even aware of where the comfort is coming from. Even though the house is sizeable and there is a pool, the energy bills are almost nothing. We heat the pool by cooling our home."

Homeowner Fred Walls is a professional scientist who had his 1,500-sq.ft. ranch house built on top of a geo-loop field five feet below the house.

"Doing it this way added just one day to the construction, and almost no cost," said Walls. "Because we had to make sure the dirt was well compacted to support the house, the thermal transfer from the soil to the loops is excellent."

He monitors everything at his home with his scientific instruments.

"The temperature is very uniform," he explained. "It never varies more than one-tenth of a degree."

Carol Fey is a degreed technical trainer who has worked as a heating technician in Antarctica. She has published five books especially for the HVAC industry. Her website is: www.carolfey.com.

TAGS: Geothermal