Geothermal Energy

Typical GHP systemGeothermal energy is basically temperature from the earth.  You may have heard the term “geothermal heat pump” or just “heat pump” thrown around when talking about home heating.  Geothermal energy has been around since the beginning of the earth, but, in the late 1940’s, man has  fashioned it for his own use for controlling the temperature of his homes and businesses.


A geothermal heat pump or GHP is sometimes called a GeoExchange, earth-couple, ground-source, or water-source heat pump.  The term “geothermal” is used because energy is derived from the constant temperature of the earth as opposed to using outside air temperature as the exchange medium. Geothermal energy systems can reach very high efficiencies such as 300 to 600 percent on the coldest of winter nights, as compared to around 175 to 250 percent for standard air-source heating systems on cool days and may be combined with solar heating to form a geosolar system with even greater efficiency.

Many parts of the country experience extreme seasonal temperatures such as scorching summer heat to sub-zero frigid winter cold, but just a few feet down, approximately 3 meters (9.8 ft) below the earth’s surface, the ground remains at a fairly constant temperature.  Ground temperatures vary, according to latitude, from around 45°F (7°C) to 75°F (21°C), and like a cave it is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than the ambient air above ground.   The geothermal heat pump uses this fact by transferring the earth’s ground temperature to the heating-cooling system through the use of a ground heat exchanger.

The ground heat exchanger is essentially a long tube buried in the ground with  refrigerant or an anti-freeze type solution that can be pumped through the system.  The ends of the tube are coupled to a pump or compressor, expansion valve and another heat exchanger above in the building or house to be heated or cooled.  In many systems, this top exchanger is an air exchanger that has a fan that blows air through a finned set of tubes that heats or cools that air from the liquid in the exchanger.  Other systems actually use tubes mounted in the floors, walls and ceilings to radiate heat directly to the structure producing radiant heat or cooling.

There are many designs and configurations for a geothermal heat pump.  Many designs are best suited for a specific locality so a GHP specialist for that area could best convey the needs of that location. An energy audit of your home or office generally will involve a specialist that can better guide you.  You might also take advantage of a DIY energy audit that will show you some obvious and not so obvious energy wasters in your home.

However  installing a geothermal heat pump could save you money in heating and cooling costs, if your location, design and installation is right.  If it is, then it will repay for itself many times over.

References:

Geothermal Heat Pump

Geothermal Energy Guide

Radiant Heat

DIY Energy Audit

See also: DIY Solar Water Heater

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