For Eric Lange, geothermal heating and cooling was like finding buried treasure.
In only two months last year, his company, Lange Transportation and Storage Ltd. found $12,000 in energy savings beneath his company's 70,000-sq.-ft. Mississauga warehouse after installing such a system.
Lange Transportation and Storage moves heavy and expensive equipment on demand. It specializes in delivering and setting up tradeshow displays across the country, but it also delivers "high-value" products including CAT scan and lotto machines, securely and to critical deadlines.
The company, located just west of Toronto and employing 50 full-time staff, needed more space, so it purchased the warehouse last July.
|Photo courtesy of Lange Transportation and Storage|
|Refitting the Lange Transportation and Storage warehouse for geothermal power required the use of two drilling rigs.|
Almost immediately, Lange realized he had a problem.
"I opened my first electrical bill, and it was for $3,800," says Lange. "We hadn't even moved in. We hadn't even turned on the air conditioning. All we had were the lights on for the painters."
Lange contacted Selectpower, a hydroelectric company owned by the City of Guelph, to do an energy audit. It confirmed his fears.
"We had a glutton for energy use," says Lange. "The air conditioning was old; the windows weren't insulating enough. A lot of things needed to be replaced. Fortunately, we had a few months before we had to move in, so I decided to renovate the building to make it more energy efficient.
"In September, I hired Selectpower to oversee the project," he adds. "In total, we spent $600,000 on the renovations.
"The changes included double-glazed windows and rubber liners on the loading docks to reduce heat loss, but the big item was the geothermal heating and cooling system. GeoSmart Energy of Cambridge engineered it and Main Air Systems was the mechanical contractor."
When Guelph Hydro phased out its Selectpower operations in October, GeoSmart took over the oversight role for the project.
The geothermal installation was active in November.
Geothermal energy conjures up images of homes heated by volcanic hot springs in Iceland or Japan, but the system Lange installed, referred to as ground-source heating and cooling, works most places on the planet.
A hundred metres below the surface, the Earth's temperature is a constant 13°C, regardless of the conditions on the surface. This is a good source of heat in winter and an effective heat sink in summer.
Pipes drilled down to this layer are filled with water or another heat-conductive fluid, which transfers heat between the Earth and the surface using pumps, fans and heat exchangers.
Geothermal systems can even be found in oil and gas-rich Alberta.
Bill Temple, a former partner with Keen Engineering, which is now a part of the engineering and architectural firm Stantec Inc., has experience with geothermal heating and cooling, having overseen three commercial systems in major projects across the province.
"Ground source works best if your building requires both heating and cooling," says Temple, "so you take heat out of the ground during winter and reverse that cycle in the summer. An imbalanced system can deplete the heat sink."
Established in 1954, Stantec employs 6,900 workers in more than 80 offices across North America, and has designed a number of buildings that meet LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) standards.
Not all of Stantec's sustainable projects use geothermal power, but it is part of the company's repertoire when it comes to designing new energy-efficient buildings or rehabilitating old ones.
"LEED is the accepted standard for sustainable and energy- efficient buildings in North America," says Temple. "It's been adopted by the federal government, the government of Alberta, Calgary, Vancouver and others. They mandate that their buildings at a minimum meet the LEED Silver standard as relates to energy efficiency.
"The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association headquarters, in Edmonton, was the first LEED project in Alberta," he adds. "Ground source kept things warm in winter and cool in summer for this 8,000-sq.-ft. administrative building."
Two other projects followed in the province, including the Yellowhead County Administration building in Edson, two hours west of Edmonton, and the Boreal Centre for Birds in Slave Lake, three hours north of Edmonton, the latter of which received a sustainable design award from the Consulting Engineers for Alberta.
"It was almost completely off the grid," says Temple. "No sewer line, water line or gas line. With the exception of electricity, it had no utility connections. We find that, in the buildings that we've designed using ground source, we can achieve 60-per-cent energy savings over the model national energy code for buildings."
He acknowledges the irony of heating buildings geothermally in Alberta when gas is traditional, plentiful and nearby, but interest is growing.
"Using ground source for heat requires a supplemental heat source," says Temple. "This requires electricity. In this part of the world, electricity is more expensive than gas, but that gap is closing. The closer your gas costs come to electricity, the more appealing ground source is."
Geothermal power is not for every building, says Temple.
The initial capital costs are an obstacle.
"If you were to compare ground source to a traditional heat/cool system using pure construction capital costs, you wouldn't decide on ground-source system. You have to look at the life cycle and the cost of energy over a number of years."
It also costs less to install a system as a building is being built.
The challenge of retrofitting Lange's 30-year-old warehouse made for an even more expensive project, but Lange is pleased with the results. "We expect a payback after 81/2 years based on today's energy costs," he says.
One of the challenges in retrofitting geothermal technology was finding space, says Lange.
"Twenty-eight holes had to be drilled, each six inches in diameter and 10 feet apart. Our property is three acres, but the building uses much of that. Then we realized one of the driveways needed to be repaved anyway. It was over 300 feet long and 24 feet wide, a perfect space to drill the bore field."
Because geothermal heating and cooling is still rare, some construction companies, lending agencies and governments aren't prepared for it, although that worked out in Lange's favour.
"We went to Mississauga City Hall and asked them about permits, and they looked at us like deer caught in the headlights," says Lange. "Even though we wanted to drill 360 feet down in the earth 28 times, we didn't need a permit. Other than checking that there was no electrical or gas pipelines below us, we were free to go."
The installation process did generate comments, however.
"We had two huge rigs in the area for two months," says Lange. "Our neighbours asked us if we were drilling for oil."
Lange claims he is not an environmentalist, even though he drives a hybrid. His decision to retrofit his warehouse was motivated purely by business sense.
"I opened my gas bill for November and it asked for $5,631.96," says Lange. "I disputed the charge and the gas company told me it was based on the history of the building and I could get a new bill based on actual usage.
"Reading the meter, I discovered that no gas had been consumed that month. The gas company thought this was impossible, but then I explained the system we'd installed."
The gas company confirmed the readings, removed the meter and capped the system. A full credit for the November bill appeared in the December bill which, had it been based on history, would have been for an additional $6,416.93.
"When you see savings of over $12,000 in two months, you realize that a smart businessperson and an environmentalist can be one and the same," says Lange.
Web Watch: www.langeshow.com
www.geosmartenergy.com (James Bow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)