Ohio General Assembly Comments

February 22, 2013

Honorable William J. Seitz
Chair, Public Utilities Committee
Ohio Senate, Senate Building 1 Capitol Square, 1st Floor
Columbus, OH 43215

Dear Senator Seitz,

This letter recognizes Chairman Seitz’s Feb. 1, 2013 memorandum on General Assembly review of Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standard provisions.

The Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO)—the trade association for the U.S. geothermal heat pump industry—believes that as the General Assembly reviews the progress of Ohio utilities in meeting Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standard provision, it should also consider “thermal energy.”

The least cost and least risk for future energy resources is energy efficiency. Indeed, the lowest cost unit of energy is one that is not used.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), buildings are the largest single sector of total U.S. energy consumption. As such, the buildings sector accounted for a whopping 41% of primary energy use in 2010. The buildings sector consumes approximately one third more energy than either the industrial or the transportation sectors. And since 60% of energy used in buildings is for “thermal loads,” some 24% of all energy used in the nation is for space heating, cooling and water heating.

A unique renewable energy technology with vast potential for energy efficiency and savings stands ready to assist the State of Ohio dramatically reduce the thermal energy demands of its buildings. That technology is the ground-source—or geothermal—heat pump (GHP). GHPs are today’s most efficient, “green” alternative to traditional heating and air conditioning equipment, offering significant environmental, economic and societal benefits.

They work by circulating water through a closed loop of durable, high-density polyethylene pipe installed either horizontally or vertically in the ground beside or even beneath a building. During the winter, GHPs transfer heat energy from the ground to buildings for warmth. In the summer, they provide cooling by rejecting unwanted heat from buildings back to the earth, while providing free hot water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Geothermal heat pumps are among the most efficient and comfortable heating and cooling technologies currently available.” EPA’s Energy Star program website says, “…qualified geothermal heat pumps are over 45 percent more energy efficient than standard options.”

EPA says that GHPs can reduce energy consumption—and corresponding emissions—up to 44% compared with conventional air-source heat pumps, and up to 72% compared with electric resistance heating with standard air-conditioning equipment. Recent advancements in GHP efficiencies only buttress these facts.

 More importantly, says DOE, “The biggest benefit of GHPs is that they use 25% to 50% less electricity than conventional heating or cooling systems. This translates into a GHP using one unit of electricity to move three units of heat from the earth.” So while a standard electric heater or natural gas-fired combustion furnace can provide no more than 100% of the energy it uses, GHPs in heating mode offer efficiencies of 400% percent+.

A typical 3-ton residential GHP can reduce summer peak electricity demand by approximately two kilowatts (kW). Take that times 500 homes equipped with GHPS, and you have a peak power demand reduction of a megawatt. That’s a megawatt of electricity NOT used, which creates what energy experts have called a “Negawatt” since environmentalist and Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins coined the term over two decades ago. The idea of a Negawatt is cutting electricity consumption without necessarily reducing energy usage through energy efficiency. And given their efficiencies, one of the best ways to get there is to promote and install more GHPs across electrical power service territories.

GHPs produce Negawatts, which have a higher value than any megawatt of costly power generation. GHPs produce the thermal equivalent of a Negawatt at a fraction of installation cost compared to a megawatt of electricity produced by any renewable power source like wind, solar and biomass. And GHPs avoid the need for expensive transmission lines required by power plants, no matter what their fuel.

By providing essentially free renewable energy from the earth, GHPs can work wonders in lightening the load on our oft-strained electrical grid. This is especially true for those sweltering days with looming blackouts when consumer demand soars for air conditioning and power generation is maxed out. For electric utilities, geothermal heating and cooling reduces summer peak demand and actually builds load (and power sales) in the winter.

Another benefit of GHPs is carbon emission reduction. According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory, one ton of GHP capacity over a 20-year operating cycle avoids CO2emissions of 21 metric tonnes. A thousand homes would therefore reduce carbon emissions by 63,000 metric tonnes over a 20-year period.

Homeowners spend much of their energy costs to heat, cool, and produce hot water. A GHP significantly cuts that cost, yielding more disposable income. Innovative dealer payment options and utility on-bill financing programs actually reduce monthly energy outlays while paying for GHP systems on the installment plan. And in low-cost housing, GHPs can help break the cycle of poverty by putting more $ in ratepayers’ pockets.

 Together we must forge new public policies that recognize these facts—for the benefit of the environment, our economy, and our citizens. With states like Maryland and New Hampshire, Ohio can lead the way for the Nation by recognizing the value of Negawatts and amending their Renewable Portfolio and Energy Efficiency standards to include the thermal loads in buildings that avoided by GHPs.

We hope you will consider GEO your information source for GHPs and how they can benefit Ohio energy policy.


Douglas A. Dougherty
President and CEO
GEO – The Geothermal Exchange Organization
Cell (217) 414-0341
Email Doug@GeoExchange.org