Interest in geothermal heating and cooling systems has increased in the last five years. “With firms more cost-conscious, green initiatives receiving more media attention and tighter market conditions, business leaders have sought ways to decrease operating expenses across the board and some of them are turning to geothermal solutions for their climate control,” writes Pramod Dibble in the November 2013 issue of sister publication PM Engineer.

Dibble is a research analyst with the Frost & Sullivan Environmental and Building Technologies practice. His information comes from a Frost & Sullivan research study published last summer on the North American geothermal heating and cooling nonresidential market.

“This technology is likely to see increased levels of implementation, as companies analyze heating and cooling solutions based on total cost of ownership analysis and capitalize on government incentives,” he continues. “Geothermal systems may never become the norm, but their increased use is already apparent.”

When most people think of geothermal systems, they think in terms of large-scale, nonresidential systems, such as hospitals, universities and colleges or large commercial projects. Savings on heating and cooling bills outweigh the cost of installation.

But that also is true for residential applications. We’ve written about projects in past issues where contractors have increased residential geothermal installs each year. During the recession, homeowners looked at how they could make their heating and cooling systems more efficient, in turn saving them money. Switching from conventional HVAC systems to geothermal was one option they took.

In this issue you’ll read about a Western New York neighborhood where 35 homes will be equipped with geothermal heating and cooling systems (page 42). The mechanical contracting firm worked with the builder to come up with a more-economical, space-saving installation plan — a stacked slinky loop field where slinky coil is stacked in two horizontal trenches. This kind of collaboration between industry stakeholders can help hurdle the obstacle of upfront costs and place the focus on life-cycle costs of the system.

Where geothermal technology is becoming more popular for residential projects, it seems that solar heating has seen some decline. Yet, the Solar Energy Industries Association says about 30,000 solar heating and cooling systems are installed each year in the United States, employing more than 5,000 workers. Systems are typically sized to the specific water-heating or space-conditioning loads of the building.

“With an increased national emphasis on manufacturing and a growing global need for solar heating and cooling equipment, the United States has the opportunity to invest in and expand its domestic manufacturing base,” says the SEIA in its report “Solar Heating and Cooling: Energy for a Secure Future.”

The report notes that 44% of energy consumption in this country is directly attributable to heating and cooling. “Solar heating and cooling can play a significant role in providing an economically viable and environmentally sustainable long-term solution to these essential needs,” it says.

Plumbing & Mechanical has published many articles about the benefits of solar thermal or solar hot water systems as an extension of hydronic heating systems. After all, we all know that water is a better heat conductor than air. Again, installation costs seem to be a hindrance to this technology taking off in the residential market. Collaboration within the industry to make solar thermal installations more efficient to reduce upfront costs would move the focus to life-cycle costs.

Of course, radiant heating features are something Plumbing & Mechanical readers have seen a lot of over the years. New technology has taken the floor-heating concept to walls, ceilings, tub surrounds and even windows. The new mantra of the Radiant Professionals Alliance is comfort, comfort, comfort.

But that’s true of all these heating technologies — providing the most comfort to the occupants of a building while conserving precious energy resources and saving money.