Optimism in Ont. geothermal industry

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By Simon Blake

Members of the Ontario Geothermal Association came away with renewed optimism after their annual conference Feb. 21-22. The Mississauga, Ont. event drew 146 people.

For an industry that has struggled over the years as government rebates ebbed and flowed, the stars are finally starting to align with renewed government support, higher energy costs that make geothermal more attractive along with better equipment and installations.

“We have a government right now that has introduced some of the most progressive climate change legislation in history,” noted OGA president Jim Bolger (Waterloo Energy Products). And for once, the federal government is “in sync” with the provincial government, he added. He urged members to keep that in mind when they vote in the 2018 provincial election. “From a practical perspective, vote strategically.”

Glen Murray, Ontario minister of the environment and climate change, re-affirmed the provincial government’s commitment to work with the geothermal industry on carbon-reduction solutions in the future. He praised the organization for their contribution to policy development.

The success of reducing emissions to near-zero while also reducing energy costs for end users in Sweden has been due in large part to the wide-scale deployment of heat pump technology, especially ground source heat pumps, noted Martin Forsén, manager, international affairs, for NIBE Industrier AB, based in Sweden. He is optimistic that similar growth will occur in Canada, adding that it’s a much easier market than the U.S. “I’m so confident that the train will take off from the platform here.”

NIBE has become the dominant player in geothermal heat pumps.  Acquisitions in the past few years include the CGC Group of Companies, Mississauga, Ont., WaterFurnace, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Enertech Global, Greenville, Illinois.

Looking to the future

During a panel session on the future of geothermal, Malini Giridhar, vice president of market development and public government affairs for Enbridge Gas Distribution, pointed to the 1.2 million people in Ontario that don’t have access to natural gas and the huge opportunity it represents for the geothermal industry.

In an earlier presentation she had outlined Enbridge’s plans to aggressively increase its presence in the geothermal market, with an initial focus on new home construction.

And with rapidly increasing costs in Ontario, targeting homes heated with electricity is a “no brainer,” remarked Forsén.

The industry continues to face a number of roadblocks, probably the largest of which is high initial cost, he added. While the industry has been working to narrow the gap with other heating technologies, “that’s where government funding is needed.”

While there are significant opportunities in the commercial and high-rise market, it has been a struggle, remarked Jay Egg, president of Egg Geothermal, Kissimmee, Florida. “The biggest barrier is the lack of understanding in the architectural community. If they understood how they could get rid of chillers and boilers, they would specify geo every time.”

He also noted that geothermal should be regarded as underground infrastructure and that subsidies should be geared to getting that infrastructure in place, providing district heating/cooling that homes and buildings in the area would be tied into by the geothermal contractor.

“Utility responsibility ends with the infrastructure,” added Martin Luymes, director of Programs and Relations for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI). “We need (the utilities) help. They have huge resources,” added Forsén.

The other barrier in Ontario is that people are reluctant to switch to geothermal from fossil fuels because geo uses electricity, and in many cases uses electric heating as a backup. “There’s a feeling in Ontario that electricity rates are out of control,” said Luymes.

The OGA operates as a division of HRAI. Many OGA members would like to see the organization spread across Canada under the HRAI umbrella, said Bolger. “It’s our goal that we have one voice that speaks for our industry and that should be HRAI.”

For more information, please visit www.ontariogeothermal.ca.

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