Geothermal Power is Possible in the City

by Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY— “The future is bright,” said John Ciovacco, President of Aztech Geothermal, at the November 15 SPB dinner. He spoke about “Geothermal Heat Pump Systems as One solution to Climate Change.”

Aztech was founded in 2007, the first installations were in 2009, and 350 installations have now been completed. Mr. Ciovacco used a PowerPoint and was accompanied by two of his workers. He said geothermal power has many names including geothermal heat pumps and “utility geothermal is not what we do.”

Geothermal uses the near constant heat trapped underground to heat buildings in winter and cool them in summer. (The heat or thermal energy is derived indirectly from the sun shining on the earth.) He said the temperature in caves in NY is about 52 degrees Fahrenheit and about 77 F in Florida.

Pipes are put into the ground, water and small amounts of antifreeze are circulated through them taking in heat in winter and putting heat into the ground in summer. The process is highly efficient because the amount of heat transferred is vastly greater than the amount of electricity used. A six-inch hole is typically drilled 300 feet into the ground that collects considerable heat (thermal energy) along its long depth.

Geothermal, he said, has been taking off in New York int the last few years due to a $15 million rebate program for ground source heat pumps. He said New York City now requires those who propose to construct new buildings to prove that geothermal is not feasible if they do not want to use it. National Grid, he said, likes geothermal because it helps to reduce summer peak electricity demand.

He said heating and hot water are the major energy uses in buildings and if they can be moved to renewables, it would be a vast improvement in efforts to limit climate change.

He said he is in discussion with Union College in Schenectady about possibly converting 42 houses on Seward Avenue (Seward Place) to geothermal, and Rhinebeck [Dutchess County] is contemplating converting the entire village.

During the Q&A, he said even in densely built-up neighborhoods, geothermal wells can be drilled in back yards if there is enough space for a truck the size of a fire truck to work. Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan now uses geothermal; the holes are 2000 feet deep. He said in Denmark it is now forbidden to replace failed fossil fuel systems with new fossil fuel.

Installing geothermal, he said, will be required if New York is to meet its stated renewable energy goals.

A moderately sized single family conversion would cost about $20,000, which is affordable for many homeowners. In return a $3000 annual fuel oil bill would be replaced by a $1500 increase in the electric bill. A $6000 rebate and federal tax credits also help with the geothermal economics. Ground source geothermal conversions, he said, typically doubles someone’s electric bill.



Published in December 2017/January 2018 Newsletter
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