The renewable energy market has seen a major spike in demand over the past few years. Consumers and businesses have become more interested in reducing fossil fuel consumption and their personal carbon footprints.
However, one renewable, geothermal — a clean energy source that uses heat from the Earth to generate power — has lagged. Instead, the biggest growth has been seen in more popular forms of clean energy, like solar and wind.
Now, there are signs that geothermal energy is set to see major demand over the next few years — and home geothermal pumps could be leading the trend.
This could present a major opportunity for construction companies — but only if these systems catch on as experts predict.
Why Industry Experts Think a Demand Spike May Be Coming
Over the past decade, the global capacity for geothermal energy grew massively. In 2018, new projects boosted total geothermal capacity to more than 14,600 MW, according to research from ThinkGeoEnergy.
Growth in geothermal is expected to accelerate. One recent estimate from Norwegian Rystad Energy has the industry adding an additional 8,000 GW of capacity by the end of 2025.
There’s also good reason for home construction companies to pay attention to the new trends in geothermal.
Home geothermal systems use the earth as a heat source or sink to provide cost-effective heating and cooling to a home or building. In the long run, these systems can provide savings over conventional, grid-powered HVAC systems. For the right homeowner, a new house outfitted with a geothermal pump could be a major draw.
Conditions in the U.S. also make much of the country good for geothermal systems. According to the 2019 Department of Energy GeoVision report, new projects could provide as much as 57% of renewable energy production capacity in the U.S. by 2050. This represents a “26-fold increase,” according to the report authors.
Geothermal can provide more consistent power than wind and solar, which need favorable environmental conditions to function.
Geothermal facilities can produce reliable heating and cooling due to the consistent temperature of the Earth. Solar systems, by contrast, only receive full sunlight for around 25% of every 24 hours.
Possible Challenges for Geothermal Home Construction
Despite advances in the technology, geothermal energy systems are expensive to install by default. The average heat pump system can cost a homeowner or construction company anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000. These systems will likely provide cost savings over a conventional HVAC system in the long run — but that may take some time to materialize.
Certain best design practices can improve the efficiency of geothermal systems — and, as a result, improve the energy savings they can offer homeowners.
Certain sites may make the installation of a system easier than others. For example, those with access to a body of water, like a lake or pond, may be able to reduce costs. However, the tech is generally going to be a major investment for any potential homeowner or home construction company.
There are government incentives and local projects that can make these projects more affordable. The renewable energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) applies to geothermal heat pump projects that finish construction by the end of 2021. While the credit is set to expire, there’s nothing stopping Congress from renewing it in the future. It has done so before.
Not every home construction project will be right for geothermal. Soil conditions on some sites may make a geothermal system economically infeasible or even impossible. Some smaller areas may also need vertical loop systems, which may pose new challenges.
Construction Experts Should Pay Attention to the Geothermal Industry
Geothermal may be set for a major boom in the next few years, which may present a major opportunity for home construction companies. New houses with geothermal heat pumps may be cheaper to live in than those with conventional HVAC systems in the long run.
The high upfront cost of these systems may be a challenge, and the future of government initiatives that make geothermal more affordable is uncertain. However, construction companies that invest in this technology could see massive benefits over the next decade.
This article was written by Emily Folk, a freelance writer covering topics in green technology and sustainability. You can follow her on her blog, Conservation Folks, or Twitter @EmilySFolk for her latest updates.