Changing building trends, governments do little to dampen enthusiasm
There was plenty of hope radiating from participants at the 2019 Ontario Geothermal Association (OGA) Conference for the industry’s future.
“Geothermal will be catapulted within the next 10 years to be even more popular than wind or solar,” remarked OGA president Stan Reitsma (GeoSource Energy Inc., Caledonia, Ont.) to about 100 people at the Hilton Mississauga Hotel, Mississauga, Ont. Held April 3-4, the event marked the association’s 10th anniversary.
The day was jam-packed with a full line-up of speakers who looked at preparing the geothermal industry or the future. OGA vice president Jeff Hunter (GPA Inc., Markham, Ont.) worked with the audience to create an Instagram-live video for their story. The final result had the audience laughing and joking about everyone becoming “Insta-famous.” Reitsma followed by giving his open remarks and admitted that he was not as social media inclined as Hunter – which had many of the members in the audience nodding along in agreement.
Building up, not out
Several speakers talked about the recent housing trend that has buildings growing upwards rather than outwards as has historically been more popular.
In Toronto, for example, buildings are being built to accommodate more people, reported Fernando Carou, manager of community energy planning and low-carbon energy systems for the City of Toronto – Environment and Energy Division.
That may be one reason why it is one of the ten most traffic congested cities in North America, he added. “Plans coming from the province have to deal with vertical growth rather than sprawl.”
By 2030, new buildings will be built to produce near-zero greenhouse gas emissions. And by 2050, all existing buildings will have been retrofitted to improve energy performance an average of 40 per cent, he reports. This just accounts for the homes and building sector. In the energy sector – by 2050, 75 per cent of energy use will be renewable or low-carbon; and 30 per cent of total floor space across Toronto will be connected to low-carbon heating and cooling energy, he predicted.
He added that the industry must work together. “We should always be working together and there should be no competitors in this room.”
Competition between companies is only one part of the struggle that people see in the geothermal industry. Everyone wants to know how much it costs. “If we can defer that first cost, everyone would do it,” said Brian Urlaub (MEP Associates, LLC, Eau Claire, Wisconsin).
He outlined three other challenges that come with selling district energy geothermal systems to consumers. Cost is number one. Second was space. Today subdivisions are packed as tightly as possible, which can cause issues with locating the geothermal borehole field. “Where are you going to put together your infrastructure” and “how do we connect each home” – end up being the questions contractors have to ask themselves.
The third challenge is logistics or operations – this is where consumers need to see a few examples done very well.
He outlined two options to lay out district geothermal systems. The first option is with a central geothermal field with a two-pipe distributing system. The benefit is that it’s similar to standard buildings with common geothermal heat exchangers and multiple heat pumps.
The negatives are that large pumping stations are needed to distribute energy throughout the development, and redundancy and resiliency is more difficult with this design.
The second option is distributed geothermal field with a one-pipe distribution system. With this system, smaller geothermal fields are strategically placed throughout the development, injecting into the main ambient loop connecting all the homes. One benefit to this is that if one small heat exchanger goes down, the entire system is still running at near full capacity.
One way a geothermal district energy system can be run is through a third-party ownership. “Following a utility-like model – third-party owners will design, build, pay for, own and operate the geothermal borehole field,” said Carou. This removes the risk and cost from the homeowners.
Some presentations looked at how changing construction trends and practices might affect the geothermal industry. Andrew Bowerbank, national vice president of sustainability and energy at WSP Canada, discussed mass timber buildings and vertical farming. Mass timber will be effective moving forward in terms of using resources wisely, he said. “We are running out of useable sand (for concrete) and by adapting we are creating a more sustainable system.”
Vertical farming applies new technology with older ideas to grow food. “We can already see a more common example of this with living walls in colleges, universities, and office spaces.”
New government, new realities
Martin Luymes, vice president of programs and relations for the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, talked about how the change in the Ontario government affected the geothermal industry.
Much has changed in the past year, he noted, including the dissolution of the GreenOn program, which provided significant incentives to install geothermal systems, and the demise of the cap and trade system. This started a conversation about the federal carbon tax, mandated April 1 in those provinces without a carbon tax – Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. The federal government has pledged $1.01 billion for energy efficiency upgrades to municipalities in this year’s budget, added Luymes.
Wrapped around the conference seating area was a small exhibition show where sponsors could display some of their latest products. Anchem, Armstrong, GroundHeat, MEP, International Pipe, and Beatty Geothermal Consulting all had booths at the conference.
For more information, please visit www.ontariogeothermal.ca.