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Advanced geothermal energy systems are becoming more and more popular and affordable. Tapping into the natural savings of a modern geothermal based system may be a smart, proactive energy efficient option for your home.
WHAT IS GEOTHERMAL ENERGY?
In scientific terms, geothermal energy results from the heat that is constantly generated at the earth's core and slowly released out to the earth's crust. Because of its inexhaustible source, geothermal systems offer the advantage of a naturally clean and totally renewable supply of supporting energy. Many environmentally-sound buildings around the world tap into this consistent energy source that lies just below the surface of the earth.
CONSTANT TEMPERATURE PROVIDES CLEAN ENERGY
The earth's underground temperature maintains a consistent level ranging from 45 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. This naturally controlled reservoir of energy is predictably warmer than the outside air in winter and cooler than the outside air in summer, so the resulting temperature difference provides the energy supply to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. This type of natural heating and cooling is much more efficient than drawing heat from outside air the way that conventional air-to-air heat pumps function.
GEOTHERMAL HEATING AND COOLING
The most common form of geothermal systems is a "closed loop" system. Geothermal closed loop systems for homes gather the heat from the ground using a series of plastic loops filled with non-freezing liquid that is buried below the frost line near the home. The free-flowing liquid is pumped through the underground loops where it naturally takes on the same temperature of the surrounding geothermally heated soil. The newly-captured heat is then transferred from the liquid to your home's heating/cooling distribution system using a ground source heat pump, and is then efficiently recirculated back underground to be heated with the same natural process all over again. The specialized heat pump can use this extracted energy and the temperature differentials to either heat or cool the interior of your home. Where it is permitted and supported by proper design factors, an "open loop" system can utilize a sustainable well or a nearby body of water to provide the liquid needed to circulate through the heat pump system.
CLEAN ENERGY FOR YOUR HOME
Although geothermal systems require moderate amounts of electricity to operate, they use substantially less electricity than conventional heating and cooling systems: 25% to 75% less according to statistical reports from the Department of Energy. According to the DOE website:
- Overall energy consumption using a geothermal system can be reduced by as much as 72% when compared with conventional electric resistance heating and conventional air conditioning.
- Geothermal can save as much as 44% on energy, even when compared to energy-stingy air-to-air heat pumps.
- Installation of a geothermal energy system will have a higher initial investment cost over traditional systems. Long-term returns are substantial. Tax incentives and rebates can reduce the initial costs considerably.
IS GEOTHERMAL RIGHT YOUR HOME?
The location of your home will need to be evaluated for several factors that could affect the viability of a primary use geothermal system. Some factors to consider include:
The size and shape of your lot will help determine what geothermal design is a good fit for your specific property. The least expensive installation using shallow trenches for the loops typically requires a larger available area. For some applications, a deeply-dug geothermal installation can configure the heat transfer loops vertically rather than horizontally and may be a more viable option for smaller lots.
The makeup of your soil--including any ledge, soil humidity, groundwater and other factors--will affect the functional heat transmission to your system and its overall efficiency.
Other common features such as trees, plantings and sprinkler systems can also affect the placement and feasibility of the needed underground loops.