A New Analysis Shows that Geothermal Heat Pumps Can Decarbonize Buildings and the Grid, While Reducing Grid Transmission Needs and Saving Energy 

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced results of an analysis highlighting that, deployed at mass scale, geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) could decarbonize heating and cooling and save energy in U.S. buildings while reducing the need for new grid transmission.

The analysis finds that, coupled with building envelope improvements, retrofitting around 70% of U.S. buildings with GHPs could reduce electricity demand by as much as 13% by 2050 versus decarbonizing without GHPs.

This reduction in demand would avoid as much as 24,500 miles of new grid transmission lines by 2050—enough to cross the continental United States eight times. Most GHP equipment for the U.S. market is manufactured domestically, so increasing GHP deployment can also expand domestic industry and create local jobs to install and maintain the systems. 

Animation: Geothermal heat pumps use the constant underground temperatures of the shallow earth as thermal storage that enables efficient heating and cooling.

“Geothermal heat pumps offer enormous value for the nation’s energy future,” said Alejandro Moreno, Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “This report confirms that geothermal heat pumps are a ready-made strategy for decarbonizing our buildings while reducing the need for new electricity generation and transmission, and bringing energy savings to Americans nationwide—all while creating U.S. jobs.” 

Conducted by experts at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and funded by DOE’s Geothermal Technologies Office (GTO), the analysis finds that mass GHP deployment paired with building envelope improvements creates value for the grid by reducing the need for generation capacity, storage, and transmission compared to other pathways. This means GHPs could improve power-grid reliability and provide benefits to all electricity consumers, even those who cannot install GHPs themselves.  

In addition, large-scale GHP deployment could eliminate more than seven gigatons of carbon, even in the absence of any decarbonization policy. Additional efficiency measures such as building weatherization can further increase benefits for energy users and the electricity grid. 

GHPs are used to heat and cool individual homes or businesses as well as networks of buildings such as college campuses. They can be used in all climates and in both urban and rural environments, and can be implemented in new construction or retrofitted to existing buildings.  

Visit GTO’s website to learn more about the report and GHPs. Explore GTO’s research to expand deployment of GHPs at individual and community scales through its Low-Temperature and Coproduced Resources program.  

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