As more budget-savvy Americans turn to renewable energy to power their homes and cut expenses, business is booming for small companies such as Earth River Geothermal, Inc.
Mark Schultz, owner of the Annapolis, Maryland-based geothermal heat pump installation company, has worked on 30 geothermal projects in the past two years. Schultz says "the word is getting out" about geothermal systems, which use the stable temperature located just beneath the Earth's surface to heat and cool homes.
A 30 percent renewable energy tax credit – extended by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – has slashed the average price of installing residential systems from $25,000 to $17,500. Grants from the Maryland Energy Administration and County property tax credits typically lower the price an additional $4,500, making geothermal an attractive energy option. "Financial incentives really help," Schultz said.
Unlike traditional HVAC systems that heat or cool outside air, geothermal systems regulate a home's temperature using the Earth. The systems consist of underground pipes filled with a special fluid. During heating mode in winter, the fluid circulates through underground piping where heat energy is transferred from the ground (the heat source) to the fluid and then to the geothermal heat pump located in the home. To provide air conditioning, the process reverses. Heat is removed from the home and transferred to the loop fluid. As the warm fluid travels through the pipe in the earth, it is cooled. In the cooling mode, the earth serves as a "heat sink," a place to deposit the heat removed from the home.
Because of this process, geothermal systems are energy efficient and can save homeowners 30 to 60 percent on heating and cooling costs, according to Energy Savers. The systems provide efficient hot water and are quiet since outdoor fans aren't required to run them. Other benefits include low maintenance costs, increased home resale value and safety. "Unlike natural gas or coal, there's no fire hazard," said Schultz.
Schultz said he realized the value of geothermal energy a few years ago when he worked as a hydrogeologic consultant. He read about the positives of the renewable energy source in an industry publication and decided to install his own geothermal system.
"Once you start to understand them, it makes complete sense and it's a superior way to heat and cool homes," Schultz said. "How can you beat low operating cost and increased comfort?"
After his consulting work began to slow down, he followed his passion for renewables and formed Earth River Geothermal. Owning a geothermal business is a challenge, Schultz said, but "it's a lot of fun."
Schultz said when small geothermal companies succeed, so do other businesses such as parts suppliers, HVAC contractors, and well drillers.
"The trickle down is huge," said Schultz. "Money is being spent locally on equipment that is manufactured in the U.S.," he adds.
Geothermal is shaping America's clean energy economy, Schultz said. "All the money being spent on geothermal systems is in lieu of importing oil."