Enbridge eyes geothermal future

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By Bruce Nagy

As Enbridge Gas Distribution moves into the geothermal infrastructure market, it is taking pains to reassure contractors that it will not be competing with them.

“We will only invest in the underground part of the system,” Enbridge president Jim Sanders told the audience at this year’s OGA conference, held Feb. 27-28 in Toronto. “We won’t sell or lease heat pumps and we’re not looking for a monopoly. All contractors can compete for the business.” Enbridge currently supplies natural gas to over two million homes and businesses in Ontario.

He also commented that, for Enbridge, new residential construction was likely to become the most promising geothermal market. He mentioned a pilot study under which homeowners pay for the service, rather than bearing prohibitive up-front system costs. “Families were thrilled with the systems and we hope to take the (environment) minister for a tour through these installations in the spring,” he added.

Working with builder

In a later interview with Plumbing & HVAC, he identified the pilot as a joint venture with San Diego Homes in Innisfil, Ontario, and said: “We are currently monitoring the performance of the systems (and) we are preparing to launch a residential retrofit Geothermal Loop Rental program to supplement GreenON’s ground source heat pump rebates…

“We’ve filed an application with the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to establish a regulated geothermal business, which we believe is the best model to achieve scale over the long term. The strategy would be to install geothermal infrastructure broadly using the same utility model as with the current natural gas distribution system, with the customers paying a rate that is transparent and approved by the OEB.”

New energy players

There are new players in the industry that are eyeing renewable infrastructure development opportunities around North America. Google’s parent, Alphabet, created Dandelion, which has been cutting costs and laying geothermal pipes for about 20 communities in New York State.

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs subsidiary has an agreement with the City of Toronto to create a large demonstration community downtown that will feature futuristic district energy including some geothermal, energy positive buildings, and an underground robotic transportation network. It is generating international media attention.
The Google activity might also be irrelevant to Enbridge. Fortis, a gas company in B.C., entered the geothermal business 10 years ago, proved it was viable and eventually created a separate company for alternative energy.
Enbridge itself has some utility scale geothermal projects in B.C., and thus some familiarity with the technology.
“The Enbridge management team is looking at market transformation and taking it seriously, because if you don’t transform your business in the modern world, bad things can happen,” said Paul Frith, director of sales and advocacy for GeoSource Energy Inc., Caledonia, Ont. He has been in discussions with Enbridge and GreenON on behalf of the OGA for several years.

“We believe that the move to a greener economy is here to stay and we are committed to delivering energy solutions customers want and need…a regulated framework for the geothermal loops and our involvement will help (with) wide scale adoption,” said Sanders.

All things considered, the idea of extracting energy from the soil and charging customers for it every month may be a simpler and perhaps more profitable concept than drilling for natural gas and piping it all over the country.

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