Read the latest from the desk ofND's editor.

NGWA to Develop a Closed-loop Well Standard

The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) has announced plans to develop an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) third-party accredited standard for the construction of vertical boreholes used in closed-loop ground source heat pump systems.

“This effort will use our now nearly 15-year-old guidelines document on this topic as the basis from which to develop the standard,” explains NGWA’s executive director Kevin McCray. NGWA’s Guidelines for the Construction of Vertical Closed Loop Heat Pump Systems, first published in 1997, has been revised by NGWA twice in the intervening years, most recently in 2010.

“NGWA’s motivation is to strengthen our contributions to this important drilling market segment heavily served by water well drilling contractor firms,” McCray explains. “We want to help assure that the drilling of loop wells – the vertical boreholes of many ground source heat pump systems – is done in a way that protects the ground water from contamination risk. The number of boreholes typically drilled for such systems makes ground water protection especially important. We also want to assure that loop wells are drilled to the design specifications so these systems operate effectively over their lifetimes. This will strengthen customer satisfaction and customer support.”

The guidelines cover topics such as loop wellfield design, test loop wells and samples, borehole construction, loop tube installation, loop well grouting, loop wellfield identification, and permanent loop well decommissioning. NGWA anticipates the standard will ultimately cover similar interests.

“Having much of the standard completed by way of the guidelines we hope will lead to rapid development of the standard and introduction to the required public comment periods on the draft,” McCray says. “However, the ANSI process is very deliberate and thoughtful, with an aim toward consensus agreement. We will follow the procedures to produce our best possible work.”

Use of Geothermal Heat Pumps Expected to Grow, Research Shows

Because the Earth maintains a constant temperature just 10 feet below the surface, systems that use shallow heat to control building temperatures above ground represent an easily accessible resource that can be deployed almost anywhere in the world. While the use of geothermal heat pumps and other forms of direct-use geothermal applications still make up a minuscule percentage of the overall heating and cooling market, growing electricity demand, rising energy prices and increasing regulation around carbon emissions and energy efficiency will push demand higher over the next several years. Used on their own, geothermal heat pumps are capable of producing large reductions in energy use and peak demand in buildings. Used in conjunction with clean energy generation and whole-building efficiency, geothermal heat pumps can provide substantially increased benefits.

According to a recent report from Pike Research, geothermal heat pump sales will experience strong growth rates in the next several years, with annual unit shipments in the United States increasing from just fewer than 150,000 in 2011 to more than 326,000 units by 2017. The use of geothermal heat pumps integrated with energy management systems, such as programmable thermostats and utility demand response programs, will give homeowners and companies powerful new capabilities for adapting electricity loads in response to peak heating and cooling periods and for reducing energy costs.

“Direct-use geothermal applications, including geothermal heat pumps, face unique obstacles – primarily high installation costs,” says senior analyst Mackinnon Lawrence. “But increased retrofit activity, a rebound in construction, and growing interest in the commercial and institutional sectors will drive strong growth through 2017 for geothermal heat pumps.”

Led by the United States, China and Sweden, 78 countries utilized geothermal for direct-use applications in 2010. Geothermal heat pumps account for more than half of the direct use of geothermal worldwide, followed by bathing and swimming. Other applications include space heating, greenhouses, industrial processes, snow melting and open ground heating. While cost and lack of consumer awareness remain primary obstacles to increased adoption, tax incentives and policies supporting building efficiency improvements will help overcome those barriers. Pike Research anticipates dramatic growth in the 2011-2017 timeframe, with the total worldwide capacity for geothermal direct-use applications increasing by 179 percent during that period.

Pike Research’s report, “Geothermal Heat Pumps and Direct Use,” analyzes the global market opportunity for direct utilization of geothermal energy with a primary focus on heat pumps. The study includes a comprehensive examination of direct-use markets, demand drivers, existing and emerging technologies, the public policy and regulatory environment, and key industry players. Market forecasts, segmented by geography, extend through 2017, and include examinations of market dynamics in all regions worldwide. An executive summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website at

EPA's Hydraulic Fracturing Study

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced its final research plan on hydraulic fracturing. At the request of Congress, EPA is working to better understand potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources. Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future, and the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that we continue to leverage this vital resource responsibly.

In March 2010, EPA announced its intention to conduct the study in response to a request from Congress. Since then, the agency has held a series of public meetings across the nation to receive input from states, industry, environmental and public health groups, and individual citizens. In addition, the study was reviewed by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), an independent panel of scientists, to ensure the agency conducted the research using a scientifically sound approach.

The initial research results and study findings will be released to the public in 2012. The final report will be delivered in 2014. To ensure that the study is complete and results are available to the public in a timely manner, EPA initiated some activities this summer that were supported by the SAB and provide a foundation for the full study.

The final study plan looks at the full cycle of water in hydraulic fracturing, from the acquisition of the water, through the mixing of chemicals and actual fracturing, to the post-fracturing stage, including the management of flowback and produced or used water, as well as its ultimate treatment and disposal. Earlier this year, EPA announced its selection of locations for five retrospective and two prospective case studies.