Infographic with four icons in a circle and the words "Geothermal heat pump systems use a series of underground pipes to provide heating and cooling from the earth."

Image source: Sarah Cheney, Courtesy of EggGeothermal

One of the ways we make a difference in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) is by supporting the deployment of energy-efficient technologies. Geothermal is a proven renewable power source, but there are almost always new horizons to explore in any technology. EERE efforts to research, develop and deploy geothermal technologies has resulted in making a difference in the lives of American consumers.

In 2009, the Department of Energy (DOE) selected 26 geothermal heat pump (GHP) projects, also known as ground source heat pumps, and awarded them funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The projects were selected and funded through EERE’s Geothermal Technologies Office and administered by our Building Technologies Office. Through this effort, DOE sought to advance GHP technology as well as reduce initial costs of deployment. In doing so, DOE also documented a range of consumer benefits from utilizing this energy-efficient technology.

GHP is a highly efficient technology gaining wide acceptance for both residential and commercial buildings. GHPs are used for space heating and cooling, as well as water heating. Rather than producing heat through the combustion of fossil fuels, GHPs use natural heat stored in the shallow subsurface of the earth to provide space heating and water heating, and utilize the ground as a heat sink for space cooling, since the ground is generally cooler than ambient air during summer.

GHP projects provide significant benefits, including consumer energy savings and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.  When Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) selected six of these projects for a case study, the lab found that GHP systems saved 33-65% in energy use compared with baseline HVAC systems and cut CO2 emissions by 25-65%. An earlier report by ORNL analyzing national benefits of GHP systems found that replacing all existing residential space-heating, space-cooling, and water-heating systems in U.S. single-family homes with properly designed, installed, and operated state-of-the-art GHP systems would yield the following benefits annually:

• cut more than 270 million metric tons of CO2 emissions (a 45.3% reduction) in existing U.S. single-family homes;

• save more than $50 billion in energy (a 48.2% savings); and

• reduce 216 gigawatts in summer peak electrical demand (a 56.1% reduction).

Although this study represents a best case scenario, it demonstrates the consumer benefits that could result from widely adopting this energy-efficient option. The energy savings unleashed can far outweigh the initial costs of GHP systems.  Additionally, GHPs installed in new or existing homes by Dec. 31, 2016 are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

As this technology is phased in to new buildings, it will save money for families, businesses and more – illustrating another way EERE works at making a difference.