2021 Webinar Series - 27 Public & Private Clean Thermal Utilities

Public & Private Clean Thermal Utilities: Where It's Working and Why

Thermal utilities to support buildings with heat pumps, while rare, are not an entirely novel concept. Any third party ownership model of ground loop infrastructure is a form of a utility. Also, a “utility” model does not have to be a shared/networked resource – our panelist will tell you how ground loop sources can be provided to individual buildings as a service too. We’ll hear how a city in British Columbia installed and operates a ground loop utility serving a mix of residential, commercial and retail buildings – including a Walmart! Lastly, examples of a single-pipe network(s) owned and operated by homeowners’ associations or similar entities. 


  • Stuart Yanow / Orca Energy
  • Constantino Retes / City of Richmond (Canada)
  • Brett Baker / Trilith (Georgia)
  • Garen Ewbank / GreyEdge Group
  • Howard Newton / Image Engineering (Whisper Valley, TX)







              1. Name geothermal is a very confusing name for consumers as it includes magma core systems and GSHPs, should we nationally for marketing come up with a different name?
                1. Hi Dennis, YES you are correct!  There is definitely a transition to the term GeoExchange, which we should all be using.  Unfortunately geothermal has been the term since the early days so we still use that.
              2. Have you run into any problems with freezing domestic water service pipes or sanitary pipes when they are near the geothermal pipes on a customer's property?
                1. No we have not, but we do maintain spacing between our geo lines and water lines.  Typically 1m or 3ft - otherwise we insulate
              3. Would you please define, ‘Ambient Loop’.
                1. Ambient meaning we’re running low temperature water - typically 32F to 90F range, as opposed to running chilled water and hot water through the ground.  Heat pumps are in the buildings and not in a central plant
              4. Is this Richmond, Virginia?
                1. No, Richmond British Columbia, Canada
              5. CITY OF RICHMOND.  What State?
                1. see previous answer
              6. Question for the gentleman with Trilith Dev., what have the challenges been with customer acceptance for using Geo-thermal vs. traditional forms of heating in the area? How had your assisted in the transition in old school thining vs, Geo?
                1. Our homeowners have had a very positive response to geothermal in heating and cooling their homes.  We educate them in how geothermal is different and more efficient than that of air source heat pumps.  They love the silent function of the geothermal unit and appreciate the lack of carbon emission and no fossil fuels.  Also appreciate the money saved over time.
              7. For third-party owned ground loops serving only a single building, how do you address the IRS rules concerning "limited use property?" (i.e. How do you claim tax incentives if loop only serves one customer?)
              8. How much does it cost for homeowners to "buy out" their systems?
              9. Richmond: Are the REIT and WalMart "on the loop?"
                1. Yes. They are connected to the main loop and can provide peaking capacity.
              10. How do you accommodate thermal expansion in the district system?
              11. Could you elaborate on how a customer's monthly bill is calculated? Is it based on usage?
              12. Who took the financial risk in establishing Lulu?
                1. The company is fully owned by the City of Richmond but is financially independent (i.e. funded from energy sales)
              13. Does Lulu Island have metrics on how much diversity the commercial loads allow for total load reduction?
              14. Could I direct my question above to Howard?
              15. What barriers are preventing geothermal and GSHP to be more common in cold-weather climates. And what advice do you have for convincing developers to use geothermal?
                1. We install heat pumps in cold climates every day (Canada).  The main barrier to wide scale adoption of geo is the cost of the ground loops, which is why we’re all discussing 3rd party ownership options
              16. Can the speakers share what the avg, residential customer rate(s) are to connect to the GSHP systems that were discussed?
                1. This can range dramatically with different providers and different regions.  There are many factors that go into developing these rates.  However, we see residential rates in the $20 to $30 / ton / month range
              17. What kind of back up power supply is used.
              18. Howard Newton: What is the capital cost per dwelling unit of the Whisper Valley development?
              19. how do you meter the BTU use?
              20. Current and total anticipated build-out at W. Valley?
              21. For retrofitting an existing homes, what is the capital cost per dwelling unit?
              22. Howard - How did this system fair in the extreme winter conditions last year? Was it still functional and did you  have any damage from that?
              23. For Garen:  This is a one-pipe (Steamboat), not a two-pipe supply/return system?  Are all 26 homes connected to a single shared (not distributed) GeoExchange borefield?