Your Underground Power Plant


Are you thinking about installing a geothermal heating system in a residence or farm building? If so, here are some website links that will help you in everything from looking for government grants and loans to learning about the technology.

—The Canadian Geo Exchange Coalition. www.geo-exchange.caA national website that answers questions about the technology, including costs, and has a list of certified contractors. To find the cost savings Q&A, click on “Information centre” at the top, the on “What is GeoExchange?” You’ll find the link you want at the bottom of this page.

To find a list of provincial incentives and grants, go to “Information centre” and click on “Financial support and grants”

— The Alberta Geothermal Energy Association. A resource for Alberta residents looking for industry contacts:

— The Manitoba Geothermal Energy Alliance. Information for consumers in Manitoba—Natural Resources Canada.

Information on federal support programs: first paragraph on the English page, you’ll find a link called “grants and financial incentives.”

Iceland uses geothermal technology for its primary energy resource. It heats over 80 per cent of its homes with heat from the ground. Although we don’t have a countryside dotted with steaming geysers — as Iceland does — there are opportunities for geothermal heating here, too. But as yet, North America hasn’t been using geothermal to its full potential.

Just a few feet down below the frost line, the ground is warm enough in winter to supply a free source of heat for buildings, even during a cold Prairie winter. And it can cool them in the summer, as well. That heat is free. All you have to do is tap into it.

Although Canada is a long way behind the rest of the world in using that energy, geothermal seems to be the most popular choice of all the “green” energy options available on the Prairies these days. That is particularly true in Manitoba, where more than 6,000 homes are now heated by geothermal energy.

Don MacIntyre, chairman of the Alberta Geothermal Energy Association and a geothermal consultant, says farmers have many other potential heat sources. The ground is only one. “Anywhere you can see heat energy being generated, a heat pump has the ability to capture it,” he says. You could remove the heat from milk on a dairy farm and using it to warm the barn and the wash water. MacIntyre says a dairy farm in Salmon Arm, B. C. is using that technology.

Taking heat from under manure piles or tanks is another option.


A typical geothermal installation involves trenching pipe deep enough in the ground to capture the constant temperature of the soil. Then fluid is circulated through the system to bring that heat into a building. The concept is simple enough, but setting up a system that exactly matches your needs can be a little complex.

Anyone wanting to use the technology “needs to do their homework,” says MacIntyre. “Every site is unique.”

Ideally, hiring a consultant that specializes in this type of system is the best way to go, but that wouldn’t be cost-efficient for smaller-scale projects like heating a workshop on a family farm. So you need to make an effort to learn about the technology and how to best apply it. Geothermal contractors will be able to assist in setting up a system, but MacIntyre says consumers should still educate themselves as much as possible.

To start with, MacIntyre says has three things to consider. First, know what your heating needs are. That involves evaluating the heat loss from the building, which is something you may need to hire a specialist to figure out. The Canadian Geo Exchange Coalition also recommends this as your first step.

Second, you need to identify sources within the building, such as animals in a barn, that will also enerate heat. This will help establish the amount of additional heat required.

Lastly, MacIntyre says you need to evaluate the cost of any technology considered. “It is important to have a mindset that one green technology may not be the answer (to every situation).” That means weighing the costs and benefits associated with installing any system, including conventional ones.

Typically, a geothermal installation for a farm building or residence will run in the neighbourhood of $20,000 to $30,000. But that can vary significantly. “I’ve seen some as low as $17,000,” says MacIntyre. “On a farm where you have space, the costs are lower than in an urban setting.” One reason is that farmyards provide the room to dig in horizontal piping circuits just a few feet below grade, rather than using the more expensive deep-well system.

And blending geothermal with another “green” system or a conventional one is often the best solution to meet heating requirements.

The Canadian Geo Exchange Coalition’s website says the typical payback on an investment in geothermal technology averages around seven years, but MacIntyre doesn’t necessarily agree. He says a lot depends on the individual circumstances. Some large high-energy use buildings may see a return on their investment in less than two years, while other smaller energy-efficient structures may take a very long time to show a return. “There is an economy of scale in any mechanical system. The larger the project, the better,” he says.

For those who’ve made the decision to install a geothermal system, everyone involved in the industry has one common piece of advice: ensure you hire a knowledgeable contractor with the skills and experience to do a good job. The Canadian Geo Exchange Coalition publishes a list of certified installers on their website to help pick one. Provincial associations also have lists of qualified people.

Scott Garvey specializes in writing about tractors and farm machinery technology for publications in Canada and Great Britain. He’s also a former affiliate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). He farms near Moosomin, Sask.

About the author


Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.



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