Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ground source geothermal
or Why do Americans love oil burners?

Today’s entry arises because I began my dark winter day here in Sweden at 6 AM by reading the New York Times Editorial on Energy. At the point in the editorial where it was time for the NYT writer to use the obligatory words “renewable energy” the writer followed with the only two kinds the Times is acquainted with – solar and wind.

I have submitted 7 Letters to the NYT Editors asking if they just might insert Ground-source geothermal (GSG), and have written the same in every comment that the NYT has dutifully accepted – probably 15 to date.

So here, once again as on July 23d, a primer on GSG. But first a question. Why do Americans still love oil and natural gas furnaces? I lived for 40 years with oil burners in America and I never saw one I liked. The only kind word I can say about them is that unlike the natural gas furnaces in Brighton, New York where I then lived they at least the oil burners did not explode and destroy houses. Small praise.

The NTT's much loved solar and wind are just fine in their place but they do not work 24/7 and they are all too visible for some folks and even too loud (wind turbines) for others. Compare those situations with what you see here in several not very dramatic images. (Images may not all be here in first post, later!)

When you see this sign (here on Nov 11) you will know you are close
Apelgatan 7 silent heat exchanger
Lets’s  start at Apelgatan 7, where I live. It has been snowing hard all day but thanks to this little white box, it is warm here in my living room and there is a plentiful supply of hot water for showers or the like. The little box is a completely silent Heat Exchanger (HE). A few kilometers from here a state of the art Municipal Waste Incinerator burns the trash and supplementary fuel to heat water that flows through a pipe to my heat exchanger 24/7. Imagine! That little box about 3 feet high replaced a gigantic oil tank and an all too large and loud oil burner.
Why wouldn’t you choose the white box in an instant, if you had a choice?

Beats me.
Invisible borehole

Now let’s go next door to Apelgatan 9 or at least to the front yard as it looked this morning. Apelgatan 9 is heated by Ground Source Geothermal (Bergvärme in Swedish). The heat comes from a 120 meter deep drill hole next to the flag pole. Sorry, nothing to see there. As I said, invisible renewable is better. Inside Apelgatan 9 there is also a heat exchanger, more nearly refrigerator size than mine, but still clean and white and working 24/7.

So can some American please stand up and tell me why he or she would prefer to have an oil or natural gas burner rather than one of those white boxes.

You may think that Americans do not know that GSG and Municipal Waste Incineration systems have so much to offer. True, for the majority and especially for the NYT. Yet there is a ray of light as may be seen at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.

Consider this building Perry Hall Large, recently renovated, and heated (now) and cooled (then in July) by GSG. 

Perry Hall heated and cooled by what you see below - GSG
If you look very carefully on either side of the walkway you will see two well heads. Here is one of them close up. Ground water comes up through this well.
Well head
Heat exchanger
This water passes through this heat exchanger (to the right) in the basement, and is returned to the ground through the other well. Simple, right? Works 24/7 right? And as close to invisible as you can get without being completely invisible.

 Imagine the oil burner system this heat exchanger replaced. Why would you want that?

The State of Vermont is using this technology in Bennington and some day maybe Vermonters will decide that it is time to change. Maybe even you will consider it is time to change. Here’s hoping.

And as the song from my long-ago childhood told us  
"The weather outside is frightful, but the fire inside's delightful, 
so since there's no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." 

Even if the "fire" is without flame!


  1. Why is Geo-Thermal not listed as "renewable"? I agree it is strange. Probably because it is difficult to make electricity from it, I presume? But it is possible: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_electricity

  2. Can you supply links to the manufacturers sites who build these devices? Especially interested in geothermal you mention.

  3. concerned Citizen, AnywheresvilleMarch 19, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    How much did it cost to install your heat system (distance heating)? how much did your neighbor pay for geothermal installation -- digging 120 meters through permafrost? couldn't have been cheap.

    So you have installation cost, and equipment cost, plus throwing away a working furnace and all the pipes and stuff. Did the Swedish government subsidize this? If so, how much? over what length of time?

    What are you heating costs on a monthly basis? You speak as if it is totally free.

    Almost my entire region has natural gas. It is clean and it is silent. For many years it was cheap; there was a bubble for a few years, when profiteers drove the price way up. It's higher now but not crazy high anymore.

    You seem to think natural gas catches fire all the time, or blows up. It CAN happen, but it is pretty rare. I can think of maybe 2 explosions in 20 years around here -- it is big news if it does happen -- in an area of 2.5 million people. When it occurs, it is always carelessness and neglect, like people smoking around an obvious gas leak.