Geothermal energy captures the thermal energy from the Earth’s core. It is a natural energy source that produces the phenomenon of hot springs at the Earth’s surface.
Geothermal heating doesn’t operate by running a pipe down to the Earth’s core. Rather, it utilizes ground source energy – that is, the energy produced when the sun warms the Earth’s surface.
Geothermal heat systems have a high upfront cost. So is your investment worth it over time? Especially in a Canadian climate?
Geothermal Heat: How Does it Work?
A geothermal heating system is made up of four main parts:
– Heat (loop) pipe system underground
– Fluid that facilitates heat transfer within the pipes
– Heat pump
– Distribution system
A pipe system is buried a few metres underground. The pipes contain fluid (water or antifreeze depending on factors such as climate) that absorbs heat from the ground. The fluid passes through a heat exchange or heat pump system that isolates the heat, compresses it to a higher temperature and sends it to your distribution system of choice – either a forced air system or radiant (infloor) heating. (Radiant heating can also be located behind your walls or in your ceilings.)
The system also works in reverse as a geo-cooling system. When it’s hot out, the fluid, which is continuously circulating, takes heat from your home and carries it outside to be absorbed back into the ground. (A forced air system tends to be a better option if you’re interested in the cooling function of the geothermal system.)
But what about for us Canadians? Is this an option for us? Well, just a few metres below the surface of the Earth, the temperature doesn’t fluctuate a whole lot during the seasons. So even during our harsh Canadian winters, a geothermal energy system can be used to provide a large portion of your heating needs.
The Advantages of Geothermal Heat
1. Heat Saving and Low Operating Cost
Geothermal heat is one of the least expensive heating options to operate. Since geothermal heating systems use heat right from your own backyard, you don’t have to a provider to bring your heat source to your home.
Although your exact savings depends on your climate, the cost of electricity in your area and how warm you like your home, it is estimated that savings on heating and cooling costs can fall anywhere between 30 to 70 percent over the system’s life span.
Adding a hot water heater to your thermal energy system can save you even more money. During the cooling cycle, heat that is removed from your home can be used for your household’s hot water needs.
2. Long Life Cycle
Geothermal heating systems typically have a long life cycle (approx. 20 to 25 years), and once installed, require very little upkeep from homeowners. Annual maintenance, however, is a good idea to ensure the long life cycle.
3. Safe for You and the Environment
Geothermal heating systems involve no combustion, flammable items, carbon dioxide emissions or fumes.
4. Energy Efficiency
Geothermal heating systems are highly efficient – producing 3 to 5 units of energy for every one unit of electricity they require.
The Disadvantages of Thermal Heat
Aside from a bit of a disruptive, dig-up-the-lawn kind of installation process, the only other real disadvantage to a geothermal heating system is the installation cost. Costs vary according to provider and installer so you’ll want to shop around a bit and make your decision based on a few quoted prices. Additionally, you may find government energy efficiency incentives that can help supplement the upfront cost.