Geothermal HVAC is the way the HVAC industry is going, and if you’re not already drilling ground loops, right now is the perfect time to get in. Here are some pointers that will help you to get involved and claim your piece of a phenomenal growth market.

Article Index:

With geothermal, you get to take advantage of your current customer base and skillset, and most geothermal exchange systems involve drilling multiple vertical boreholes. The “geothermal exchanger” is inserted into the borehole, and is normally a pair of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipes connected at the bottom by a prefabricated “U” bend. Training for this type of system is normally completed by attending a workshop put on by the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) or an affiliated organization.

Hopefully this catches you up. The purpose of this article is to update drillers on recent developments in the geothermal HVAC industry, and where we are likely headed.

Geothermal Updates

Tax credits will likely be extended for another five years on ground source heat pumps (GSHPs). National Geothermal Day will be Oct. 20, 2015. Local and state governments are increasingly promoting GHSPs as a cost-effective renewable energy (RE) technology. GSHP sales are skyrocketing. I expect (just a guess) that GSHPs will be the minimum standard for new construction in many areas within 10 years — maybe even nationally.

This is all great news for drillers that are trained and certified to do ground source HX systems. You can be certain that improvements in piping and drilling are on the way, whether we like it or not. Those that embrace new technologies and materials will reap the benefits. A couple of technologies that I recommend we watch closely are piping materials and drilling methods.

Watch for Improvements

I think that we will always depend on HDPE for the earth loop/exchanger. It’s a permanent solution and extremely durable as infrastructure. Watch for improvements in thermal conductivity of HDPE pipe. Stay on top of these improvements and be willing to use improved products that will save your customers some money.

Improvements in drilling methods will likely be drastic. Some of these methods may require modification and/or changes to existing drilling equipment. People will flock to those that can install a shorter loop while maintaining a cleaner jobsite.

I don’t know exactly what particular technology our industry will settle on for our wildly differing geologies; there will likely be many “best technologies” depending on the lithology of each area. Successful drillers will be those that stay on top of developments and adapt according to the needs of each particular region.

Drilling Companies Make Inroads

One drilling company that has impressed me for several years is Geothermal Resource Group. They don’t know I’ve mentioned them (yet), so this is not an endorsement; just an example of forward thinking. Owner Bill Rickard and his son, Connor, met with me in San Diego some years ago to talk about Desert GeoExchange, a company they formed to serve the growing GSHP market.

The Geothermal Resource Group is arguably the largest and most successful “hot geothermal” drilling company in the world. I’ll bet Desert GeoExchange still hasn’t approached making a blip on their overall bottom line. But they’re spending considerable effort to make sure they have everything set when GSHPs take over in California.

In Florida, I saw an international company called Coastal Caisson, a division of Bauer Foundation, enter the GSHP market, citing their confidence that GSHP are the future of HVAC.

What these companies have in common is that they are drillers, but that’s where similarities end. To enter the GSHP market, they had to get IGSHPA certified, modify or buy new drilling equipment, and learn HDPE fusion and piping standards just to cite a few hurdles — a whole new frontier to both.

The industry is not done yet. In the near future, we will be using less pipe and cleaner drilling methods (taking less space), spend fewer days and hours on site, and maybe even see equipment modification or upgrades.

Like the invention of the sewing machine that did the work of several seamstresses, or the boring machine for subways, standard drilling practices may be updated with modified installation methods for piping. Horizontal boring may be indicative of where the technology will settle, but it will likely be more of a vertical type of classification.

One thing is certain: The eyes of the HVAC world will be on drillers. You are the experts, you know the earth and you will be expected to perfect these new methods. Drillers all over will reap the benefits.