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Debunking the Green House Plan Myth

By Charlie Blore

Is it price? The desire to be green? Is it a question of availability?
Or government subsidies? Maybe it’s all of the above?
The market for geothermal energy in Canada has skyrocketed in recent years. Provinces across the country have reported geothermal sales growth in excess of 100 per cent. In 2007-08 alone, the industry grew 50 per cent in Canada. It’s a meteoric rise that has come about so suddenly that it has many impartial observers scratching their heads and wondering where this is all coming from.
How could one not be puzzled by the trend? Geothermal heating isn’t exactly new; geothermal pumps have been a viable temperature control system for decades.

Price Landscape Has Changed
Sure, they still aren’t cheap — today, geothermal systems generally come with a price tag in the $25,000 range — but costs have dropped dramatically in the last decade. Government subsidies are one part of the story, and more affordable equipment is the other.
“With the boom in geothermal, there’s a huge market for contractors, builders and HVAC installers to get into it, but spending $200,000 to $300,000 on equipment to get into the industry hardly seems worth it,” says Elliot Duck, sales manager for RigKits, a manufacturer of geothermal drilling equipment. “So we’ve developed our technology into kits to make it affordable for the smaller guys who aren’t into the big drilling stuff.”
More affordable equipment from companies like RigKits has lead to lower costs passed on to the client and increased competition among installers.
What does that money buy? Geothermal systems hinge on one very simple principle: the temperature below the surface of the earth remains at a stable temperature all year round. If you pump that air into a home, you’ve effectively given it heating for the winter and air conditioning for the summer. Systems may differ based on materials and design, but they all essentially do this same job: delivering to the consumer energy savings that by most estimates range from 30 to 70 per cent.
Certainly, the growing energy efficiency movement and ever-rising energy prices have also played a major role in the industry’s growth. Oil prices more than tripled between 2002 and 2008 and, not surprisingly, this coincided with the beginning of the geothermal boom.
“The current economic state as it regards new alternative energy sources has been key,” says Duck. “Homeowners are getting all kinds of incentives from the government — local, federal and provincial — to have geothermal installed in their homes. So this has really kicked the industry up.”

Government Subsidies Act as Game Changers
Government support has been strong at both the federal and provincial levels, and it continues to grow by the month. From loans, to grants and tax breaks, subsidies abound in Canada for home owners looking to install or retrofit their homes with geothermal systems. In some cases, homeowners can expect subsidies to cover as much as half the cost of installation.
In addition to direct subsidies, the federal government scored a home run with the development of the Canadian GeoExchange Coalition, an under recognized driving force behind the surging market. The CGC has been in existence since 2003, and has been a leader in promoting geothermal energy in Canada.
“The governments have played two very important roles along the way,” says CGC president, Denis Tanguay. “First, they helped us develop our program. Second, they came on board with important subsidies at the right time.”
The CGC has been a strong promoter for the industry and has taken the lead in fighting the unaccredited installers who’ve seized on the opportunity presented by this rapidly growing industry. The speed at which the industry has grown left regulators scrambling to catch up. The CGC has promptly stepped in to fill that void with its own certification program. They’ve also launched a campaign to educate the public on the dangers of using uncertified contractors to install geothermal systems.
“We developed our training program and marketing campaign, and then we started making some noise,” says Tanguay. “Now we’re seeing people who had foregone our certification program come back to it because customers are starting to ask for it.”
As the certification program grows, it should bolster the legitimacy of the industry as a whole; only serving to solidify geothermal’s position as a mainstream alternative to more traditional heating and cooling systems.

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