Region seen as prime territory for geothermal heat pumps
EnLink Geoenergy hopes installation of its energy-saving technology at the Regional Transportation Commission’s Centennial Plaza in downtown Sparks will provide the leverage it needs to widen its presence in northern Nevada.
Headquartered in Rancho Dominguez, Calif., EnLink markets geothermal heat-pump systems that use the constant temperature of the soil to provide heating and cooling of commercial buildings.
Mark Haarer, a senior vice president of EnLink, spearheads an effort to educate architects, engineers and developers in northern Nevada about the technology.
A major hurdle: The EnLink geothermal heat-pump systems have nothing to do with the reservoirs of hot water that are tapped to create electricity in geothermal power systems.
Instead, the company’s system takes advantage of the constant temperature of about 65 degrees in the soil, beginning eight to 10 feet below the surface.
EnLink uses a patented technique to drill wells, usually 200 to 500 feet deep, spaced at 20-foot by 30-foot intervals under a parking lot or green space. Polyethylene plastic tubing is installed in loops through the wells.
Air circulates through the wells, and an earth-heat exchanger works something like an automotive radiator, transferring heat from the building to the ground in the summer and from the ground to the building during winter months. A heat pump inside the building controls the flow of air to the exchanger.
The technology replaces boilers and chillers. The rest of a building’s HVAC system is the same as a conventional system.
Haarer says northern Nevada is a particularly attractive market for the company because high temperatures in summer and cold temperatures in winter allow building owners who install the technology to save utility costs nearly year round.
While geothermal heat pumps have been known and used for the better part of 60 years, Haarer says banks and other traditional lenders have been wary about loaning money for their installation on commercial jobs.
Finances are beginning to loosen, Haarer says, as third-party financial firms create arrangements in which they pay for the technology in exchange for a portion of the cost-savings and a portion of tax credits or other incentives that are available.
Costs of the system depend largely on drilling expenses, and vary significantly from one location to another.
Along with the RTC facility in downtown Sparks, locations that have installed EnLink technology include the Douglas County Courthouse in Minden.
The RTC relies on the ground heat-pump system as a portion of its application for Silver LEED recognition from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that geothermal heat pumps provide savings up to 70 percent in comparison with conventional heating and cooling systems.
Although about 1 million of the systems have been installed in the United States, Haarer says they’re still not widely understood.
“When people are educated, everything falls into place,” he says.
EnLink, launched in 1998, is a portfolio company of Craton Equity Partners, a Southern California clean-technology fund.
Since it began investing in EnLink in 2008, Craton has brought in a fresh management team and focused the company’s sales efforts on institutional, big-box retail and industrial prospects in the Southwest.
Haarer says the company will subcontract its drilling and installation work on northern Nevada contracts until the volume of business justifies creation of a stand-alone operation.
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