Heating and Cooling from the Earth Engine

When people think of renewable energy, their first thought is typically solar power or wind energy. In Pennsylvania, the most natural and renewable energy system available to meet the heating and cooling needs for residential, commercial and recreational needs is a geothermal or a ground-source heating and cooling system. These systems come with a variety of configurations and a single system can heat or cool a home without natural gas, coal, oil or biomass. However, some electric is required to run the system.

Geothermal Concept House

This relatively obscure technology is robust, proven and available now to those willing to understand the simple beauty of these systems.

A geothermal system moves and stores energy rather than producing energy through combustion or resistance. Geothermal systems work by exchanging hot or cold air from the home with the stable stored energy in the ground, rather than by converting chemical energy to heat. This is a renewable energy system that is very efficient and has enough flexibility to fit a variety of applications. Some added benefit in addition efficiency is that geothermal energy creates no pollution to our air or water and other than electricity, they eliminate the need to purchase highly processed petrochemical fuel from less than environmentally conscious producers.

While the air temperature in Pennsylvania can vary from -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the coldest part of winter to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the Earth’s temperature a few feet under the surface is essentially the same in winter and summer. In the winter, the system can heat a home using the Earth’s relatively warm core energy. In the summer, the same system can cool the home with the Earth’s relatively cool mass. Year-round, geothermal systems can produce hot water. Geothermal heat pumps have an efficiency of over 300 to 500 percent (meaning they get a payback of 3 to 5 times the energy used to run the system). This efficiency provides the heating/cooling needs at a cost that is 30 to 70 percent less expensive than conventional energy systems, without combustion, carbon dioxide, methane, water pollution or the waste generated by other energy systems.

Geothermal ground-source heating and cooling systems work during the night when the sun is blocked by clouds and when the wind is not blowing. While electricity costs may vary, geothermal costs don’t fluctuate like natural firewood, gas, coal and heating oil. The ground-source system comes in a variety of configurations to easily fit new home construction or homes with a more conventional, existing duct-based heating and cooling systems.

The Way System Works

The geothermal system has three main components: connection to the Earth, delivery and distribution system and a geothermal heat pump. The Earth connection allows the system to pull or store heat in the Earth. In heating mode, the system uses the Earth connection to pull a small quantity of heat from the Earth to heat a person’s space. In cooling mode, the system does the reverse and transfers heat from the air back to the Earth.

The distribution system can be a series of vertical connections or loops buried in the ground that transfer and help to distribute the energy. The geothermal heat pump is very efficient energy transfer system that moves the energy from the building to the transfer fluid.

The system does require an electrical source to run the heat pumps and circulation system and it is critical that an existing home have a formal energy audit done prior to installing a system. New construction should use green building and energy efficient insulating systems so the system can be properly sized. The Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit provides a 30 percent tax credit toward the cost of alternative energy equipment installed on or in a home or business. With these credits, payback on installation is about 10 years+.


Pennsylvania residents could benefit from lower energy costs, elimination of water and air pollution and a significant reduction of the expensive and environmentally destructive infrastructure of fossil fuels by adapting geothermal systems as soon as possible.


To learn more about geothermal energy, visit the Keystone Clean Water Team at CarbonWaters.org or Duane Moyer Well Drilling at MoyerWellDrilling.com.

Article published in the April Addition of  Natural Awakenings Magazine

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