The Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), a national trade organization for the U.S. geothermal heat pump industry, says the outlook is positive for the geothermal industry for 2014. After an economic downturn, the geothermal heat pump industry began to see an upswing in equipment sales during the last two quarters of 2013. Geothermal heat pumps are becoming more recognized as a viable alternative to traditional HVAC systems throughout the industry, from architects and HVAC design engineer firms to building owners and managers.

The commercial sector in particular has been a great source of growth for geothermal heat pump technology. During the recent economic downturn, when no new homes were being built, commercial facilities and institutions, such as schools, libraries, and other public facilities, remained a strong market for the geothermal heat pump industry, according to GEO. Many schools adopted geothermal technology during this period, both for new construction and retrofits. As administrators began to see the cost savings and advantages of geothermal heat pumps, they shared their findings with their fellow school administrators, leading to even more school adopting the technology. Many corporations that have chains of stores with cookie-cutter designs, such as McDonald’s, IKEA, and Walgreens, are also adopting geothermal heat pump technology after seeing the energy savings achieved with geothermal heat pumps systems in comparison to conventional HVAC systems. Seeing these savings has motivated them to implement the technology in even more stores.

Another factor helping to spur corporations to consider implementing geothermal heat pump technology is pressure by the local communities to find more energy efficient and green solutions for heating and cooling. Many communities are adopting energy efficiency goals and establishing carbon reduction programs, which, in turn, prompt architectural engineers to consider geothermal technology.

GEO has also been working diligently to get support from utilities. Geothermal heat pump systems are perfect for smart-grid and for demand-side management programs. New geothermal heat pumps are fully variable and can be tied to the smart-grid network. This will enable building owners to dial back their equipment as much as desired, providing them with significant savings while still providing tenants with adequate heating and cooling. Tenants most likely won’t be able to detect any difference in their heating and cooling but the building manager will see significant savings and reduce the demand on their system.

The starting cost of a geothermal heat pump system may be a deterrent for some. However, while the cost to start is higher than a traditional system, over time the savings offered will far outweigh those start costs. In a 20-year life cycle cost analysis, geothermal heat pump systems win against other technologies every time. In addition, there is also a 10 percent federal tax credit for installing a geothermal heat pump system. Because the energy taken in and out of the ground via the top aren’t tangible assets, many lenders have difficulty assigning value. To help make financing a new system easier, GEO is currently working to help lenders understand and appreciate the value of geothermal heat pump systems.