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Geothermal Heat Pump Systems’ Contributions Towards Emissions Reductions

On Thursday, December 16, 2010, the California Air Resource Board approved a plan that would place a cap in 2012 on the amount of carbon emissions from 600 major industrial plants in the state. This is a huge step towards California’s legislative goal set by the Global Warming Solutions Act to reduce green house gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. This is a 15% reduction in today’s levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

It would be fair to say, as the cap and trade policy is implemented, building owners will be obligated to find ways to cut their own greenhouse gas emissions. It can also be noted that although climate legislation on Capitol Hill has taken a halt, California’s bold efforts will produce response by other states that are sure to follow California’s lead. When this occurs the expense to emit tonnage of greenhouse gases will become very costly to building owners.

Facts about Carbon Emissions in the U.S.:

Major greenhouse gases consist of the following: COx, NOx, SOx, and O3,. All of which are mostly formed directly or indirectly through combustion processes, and whose emissions can be correlated with CO2 emissions:

  • The U.S. produces 1000 tonnes of CO2 every 5.3 seconds
  • Per capita carbon emissions in the U.S. are approximately 19.5 tonnes per year
  • Fossil fuels account for 85% of the primary energy use in the U.S. and are responsible for 98% of CO2 emissions
  • The transportation sector only accounts for 25% of all CO2 emissions

Buildings represent approximately 40% of all energy use and an equivalent 40% of all CO2 emissions in the United States. 65% of a building’s energy is consumed by heating and cooling, and therefore an approximate 26% of all CO2 emissions in the U.S. are a result of heating and cooling of buildings. This means HVAC systems account for a little over 1/4 of all CO2 emissions in the U.S., and the majority of a building’s carbon emissions.

Geothermal Heat Pump Systems (GHPS) could potentially reduce the amount of energy used for heating and cooling by up to 70% according to the EPA, resulting in an equivalent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. With elimination of heating equipment such as boilers and furnaces which use the combustion of oils and gases to heat buildings, and the elimination of cooling towers which utilize large amounts of energy, installation and use of GHPS result in zero on-site emissions and significant reductions in peak demand, which reduces emissions from power plants.

If all heating and cooling units in the U.S. were to be converted to GHPS a conservative total estimated reduction in energy used for heating and cooling of 50% could be obtained. This would result in an overall estimated 15% reduction in total carbon emissions for the U.S. For California, this would mean reaching the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act goal of 1990 level green house gas emissions.

Restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions for the major industrial plants are sure to be followed by policy restricting the amount of greenhouse gas emissions allotted to buildings. When this occurs building owners are going to be looking for the most cost effective way to reduce their carbon footprint. GHPS are a sensible solution for the situation. The new cap and trade policy in California is sure to have a profound impact on the GHPS market. As building owners feel the financial burden of excess carbon emissions, the implementation of GHPS is sure to increase.

Albert Escobedo is an associate of EnLink Geoenergy Services, a full service geothermal heat pump system contractor, based in Los Angeles County.

Photo Credit: CSLP

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