Empowered Municipality

Geothermal Applications for Municipalities

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Geothermal, is becoming a viable solution for municipalities to reduce their energy demand. With a long term perspective on their facilities it makes sense for them to consider this technology.

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"Solar photovoltaic and wind are electric supply side solutions whereas geothermal is a demand side solution that significantly reduces power consumption," commented Alex Bodian of TeraTherm, LLC, a geothermal consultant and system desinger/contractor.

"Solar and wind are focused on electrical generation, adding more power to the grid, from renewable sources. House Bill 80 and Senate Bill 92 in the State Legislatures are really focused upon these supply side solutions. The limitations of solar and wind are that they are weather dependent. What legislators and most municipal decision makers may not know is what a perfect solution goethermal is for municipal buildings 24 hours a day & 365 days a year," he continued.

Return on Investment The return on investment ratio provides a standard return on investor's equity. ROI evaluates the financial return on a specific investment. This calculation is often used for wind and solar as it helps calculate the "payback" time for a given investment in a given technology and installation. It is a supply side way of evaluating things.

Return on Assets The return on assets ratio provides a standard for evaluating how efficiently financial management employs the average dollar invested in the firm's assets, whether the dollar came from investors or creditors. ROA evaluates how well the assets of an organization are being utilized. ROA on the other hand evaluates how well existing or new assets are being best put to use. Lowering demand for electricity, which is what geothermal does provide a very valuable ROA.

"Remember though human behaviors and energy conservation, plus weatherization steps all come in play before generation strategies are the most cost effective. Making an analysis of each facility by doing an energy audit is the best place to start," commented Ben Fahndrich of ThermoSave.

Fahndrich continued, "all facilities are not made equal, thus the feasibility studies are crucial. The result can often lead to multiple strategies being implemented together. Often though public awareness and funding sources for subsidies is when the real movement begins.There would be many more successful projects if this piece, the funding, was solved. Municipalities are hurting for cash flow, so finding viable funding sources is a very important step in any new projects."

"Several challenges with these technologies is that the supply of new innovations are still catching up in this country with our own manufacturers and bringing the costs down.  We are making progress, for instance, the price of solar has dropped considerably in the past two years"

"There are other challenges with solar and wind. Getting that electric supply to the grid is not that easy with outdated infrastructure, thus the need for a new smart grid. Also the storage of that electricity that is produced on site can still be improved and the costs come down. Geo thermal's ROI and ROA can be a quicker return in many cases."
"Closed loop systems are improving and less maintenance problems occur.  The well drilling process has improved. Open loop systems are most economical if there is a natural water source. Still there are challenges for retrofits if the location does not have sufficient space, for instance a land locked location in a city. If there is a complete renovation and clearing of the property then there are successful examples of drilling the wells below the basements, then a build out of that project is very possible & can be economical."

"Not many are set up to start from below ground on up, so if land is available to drill the wells required for Geo thermal, then this can be a very good option.  A side benefit is It does provide jobs to local contractors and the technology is proven and growing."

Ben Fahndrich also serves at Empowered Municipalities Alternative Energy Consultant and Editor.

At it's June 23, 2009 Board meeting, the Parkland School District in Lehigh County received approval toapply for a Renewable Energy Program - Geothermal Project Grant of $915,371 (based on the projected costs of $1,830,742) from the Commonwealth Financing Authority to be used for the purchase and installation of a Geothermal HVAC system at Fred J. Jaindl Elementary School.

On Dec. 17, 2009, the Commonwealth Financing Authority announced funding for four geothermal projects. These included:
  • Loan to Parkland Elementary School, Lehigh County for $251,423.
  • Loan to Sun Center Studios, Delaware County for $459,000.
  • Loan to CMP Group for Benton Hills, Apts., Montgomery County for $43,620
  • Loan to St. Jacob's Lutheran Church for $31,200.
  • 70% of energy consumption in a typical home is for heating, cooling and water heating.
  • Buildings account for 30% of all primary energy consumption.
    • 21% Residential
    • 18% Commercial
  • Buildings account for 43% of U.S. carbon emissions
  • With geothermal, energy site cosumption is cut half.


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