GEO on DOE Quadrennial Review

On April 15, the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO) submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Quadrennial Technology Review Framing Document, published in the Federal Register March 14, 2011. DOE regularly seeks comments on its mission and program focus.

The following summarizes GEO’s comments to specific questions posed by the Framing Document:


What do you think of DOE’s mission statement for energy research, to “facilitate the invention, refinement, and early deployment of meaningful technologies that enable options for scaling by the private sector toward national energy goals”? GEO agrees with and supports DOE’s mission statement.

Several qualities inherent to Geothermal Heat Pumps (GHPs) are captured by it. GHPs are an American invention under continual refinement to produce greater cost and energy efficiencies. Even so, it must be recognized that the GHP industry is still in an early stage of development in terms of cost reduction (primarily loop installation); measurement of operations and efficiencies; and consumer acceptance and market share. GHP systems are meaningful technologies from energy efficiency and renewable energy standpoints. They are scalable, so can be used in small residential building and large structures for government, commerce and industry. GHPs are poised to play a critical role in national goals of reducing energy dependence; limiting environmental impacts; and increasing U.S. competitiveness.

How can DOE activities best support U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation, manufacturing and deployment? How do we balance international competitiveness against international cooperation? To support U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation, DOE should be involved in the debate over a national Clean Energy Standard (CES). In doing so, we hope that DOE will recognize and promote the unique contributions that GHPs could make if such sweeping legislation were to become law. GEO believes that to help meet its environmental, economic and security goals, CES legislation should recognize GHP demand-side thermal renewable energy technologies. If CES legislation is passed into law, inclusion of GHPs on a megawatt to thermal basis could be beneficial to utilities, because GHPs present few cost problems, permitting concerns or liability issues. GHPs could help utilities earn CES credits while reducing carbon emissions from displaced fossil-fuel combustion. GHPs are a cost-effective way to help utilities meet obligations under any potential CES. Finally, we believe that DOE should embrace GHPs as a stand-alone component among their various programs. In doing so, the agency could better assist the GHP industry in overcoming price and technological barriers, while helping to fulfill its twin goals of increasing clean energy manufacturing and deployment in the United States. The GHP industry already has a significant export business that could only be increased by positive contributions of DOE in raising efficiencies and reducing product costs.

What principles should the Department follow for allocating resources among technologies of disparate maturity and potential time to impact? DOE should not only look at emerging energy technologies,  but at technologies like GHPs that have passed the emergent stage but still face significant hurdles to widespread and beneficial adoption. For GHPs, that means providing an independent Geothermal Heat Pump Technologies Program, funded adequately to support its office teams, plus research at Oak Ridge and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) as well as selected institutions. With a program that better allocates limited research and development dollars, GHPs could more quickly gain market share and help the United States meet a variety of societal and policy goals.


What are the optimal roles for the private sector, government laboratories, citizens and academia in accelerating technology innovation? GEO would like partnership of industry with DOE and the national laboratories, which naturally leads to optimization of work and product. A dedicated program and personnel with shared leadership for targeted results can accomplish the goals of cost reduction and data collection technologies. Both will ultimately help raise consumer confidence and increase GHP deployment. Oak Ridge has traditionally led DOE research and development standards for GHPs; NREL’s recently formed geothermal program wants to work with the industry. One idea is “Smart Box” technology attached to systems (with consent) that would record and confirm GHP cost and efficiency claims. The ultimate goal is to build consumer trust, thus helping expand the market reach of GHPs.

What are principles and best practices in performing large-scale demonstration projects? The primary risks faced by energy decision-makers are uncertainty of operational performance and application of regulatory structure to emerging technologies.  Demonstration projects benefit all stakeholders by incorporating and disseminating operational and performance metrics. DOE and the industry have accomplished numerous GHP demonstration projects, but no centralized database of post-installation system performance was made available. Demonstration projects should require extensive collection and analysis of system performance, with widespread distribution of results via the Internet. Demonstration projects should be selected on the basis of a technology’s cost/benefit ratio, while assessment of benefits should include contribution to expansion of design and installation infrastructure. An Oak Ridge National Laboratory report concludes that “GHPs have the potential to offset about 35 to 40 percent of the projected growth in building energy consumption between now and 2030.”  Those benefits would enhance energy security by displacing energy imports and decentralizing energy infrastructure.  U.S. competitiveness would be promoted by expanding U.S. manufacturing, and the environmental enhanced by reduced greenhouse gases and avoidance of electric grid expansion.

A number of non-technical barriers impact the rate of deployment of energy technologies.  What, if any, role should the Department have in addressing these barriers? DOE can have a great impact on non-technical barriers merely by its presence. The non-technical barriers impinging upon the market for GHPs are would be addressed indirectly by a DOE-dedicated program for the technology, which would constitute a much needed endorsement of GHPs. In addition, a Geothermal Heat Pump Program would necessarily have a public outreach component, which could efficiently provide information through State Energy Offices and other partners to a broad swath of public and consumer interests.


Have we correctly identified and structured these six strategies? Yes. GHPs clearly fit within demand-side strategy for clean, renewable and efficient energy policy.  Our answer to question 2) briefly articulates how GHPs would fit into a Clean Energy Standard on the demand side.  Our answer to question 8) demonstrates how GHPs drive down end-use costs and consumption for building owners, while simultaneously flattening electric utility peak demand and reducing carbon emissions.


Comment on selection of technologies and sources, and suggest alternate technologies and sources. Residential and commercial buildings consume ~40% of U.S. primary energy and over 70% of electricity, and produce 43% of U.S. carbon emissions. GEO agrees with DOE goals of reducing energy consumption of commercial HVACs by 80% by 2020, and reducing energy use for hot water service by 50% by 2015. We hope DOE will recognize GHPs’ ability to significantly reduce thermal loads while reducing peak power demand.  In Edmond, OK, two office buildings were built next door to each other with identical designs and materials. One was equipped with a conventional system, and the other with a GHP system. On an annual basis, the GHP building used 47% less energy than the HVAC building, and reduced peak electricity demand by 35%. From the supply side, the GHP building reduced peak demand with benefit  to the electric utility and the grid. From the demand side, the GHP building reduced energy consump-tion, saved the consumer money and made the company more profitable. GHP buildings also eliminate health and safety hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning and gas line/building explosions.