Geothermal heat pump (GHP) technology accesses sun-derived energy stored underground in groundwater and bedrock to heat and cool homes and commercial buildings all across the United States. In early March, the American Ground Water Trust workshop, “Geothermal Heating and Cooling Innovations- Design, Financing and Regulation” featured presentations by leading energy engineers, groundwater professionals, designers and government experts on some of the newest advancements in the industry. Over 80 registrants from the building industry and environmental organizations in Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC region attended the program.
Maryland’s new Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) was highlighted on the program. In 2012 Maryland’s legislature enacted the first RPS law in the nation to allow electric utilities to include thermal energy derived from GHPs as a credit in RPS programs. Doug Hinrichs (right), Clean Energy Program Manager for Maryland Energy Administration described the energy conservation benefits from the RPS program and the importance of GHP technology in the process. GHPs are 300 to 500 percent more efficient than conventional electric and fossil fuel-based heating and cooling methods and thus can significantly reduce electricity use and avoid carbon emissions while still providing the same level of temperature control and comfort throughout a building space. GHPs combine the efficiency of heat pump technology with the daily renewable energy from the sun to be “the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space-conditioning system” available (U.S. EPA 1993).
Doug Hoffman (left), Senior Vice President/ Engineer at Gipe Associates in Easton MD, provided examples of how a local net-zero home is taking advantage of the efficiency and renewable energy that are at the foundation of GHP operation. Sandy Wiggins, a Principal at Consilience in Washington DC described the role of the Living Building Challenge philosophy in the development of water conservation and efficient energy use systems at the new Hard Bargain Farm Environmental Center being constructed by the Alice Ferguson Foundation at Accokeek, MD.
It was clear from the presentations that the installation and operation of GHP heating and cooling systems benefit from bedrock, soil and groundwater conditions that are free of contamination. GHP space-conditioning systems are an example of the critical importance of groundwater in our daily lives, and a reminder that we must manage the resource to reach sustainable outcomes that maintain its economic and environmental value.