Hyer on the Hill – Tapping Our Geothermal Potential

Bruce Hyer MPTHUNDER BAY – Leaders Ledger – As Canadians, we are blessed with vast natural resources. We have the ability to be a global energy leader, if we are smart in investing in and developing our resources. Being smart doesn’t just mean digging minerals out of the ground and shipping them abroad. It means getting the maximum out of our resources, and leaving no stone unturned when it comes to finding ways to do that. One plentiful resource that is all too often overlooked in Canada has huge potential: geothermal energy and geothermal heating & cooling. Many Canadians haven’t heard much about it, and it is a vastly underdeveloped resource in our country.

Geothermal power is energy that comes from heat stored in the Earth. By drilling wells to tap into the earth’s natural heat, we can harness this energy to act as an environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost-effective power source. This energy can be drawn from the ground, or from water sources, like the hot springs found around Canada’s Rocky Mountains.

More promising still is geothermal heating & cooling. Below 10 feet underground, the ground temperature under much of populated Canada is a constant 10 degrees Celsius (even in winter), and it gets warmer the deeper you go. In the cold winter, heat pumps installed in homes transfer the heat from underground into the house, lowering home heating costs dramatically. In the summer when it is warmer above ground, the house is cooled in the same way, often eliminating the need for air conditioning. It’s very cost-effective: geothermal heat pumps can extract heat from below 30 feet underground more efficiently than it can be generated by conventional furnaces.

The surprising thing is that most residential, commercial, and industrial buildings is Canada are built on top of ground that could easily provide most of their heating and cooling needs. The one downside is the high up-front cost of installing a geothermal system, even though these systems tend to pay for themselves many times over in time.

Geothermal is the most reliable and consistent power and heating source among all renewable technologies. There are also fewer complications with geothermal power than with other forms of renewable power that currently get much more attention. Wind farms, for example, have faced opposition from nearby residents. Hydroelectric dams often flood vast areas and impact aquatic ecosystems. Etc.

A few years ago, I was very pleased to be able to host the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association (CanGEA) for their first talk and exhibition on Parliament Hill – something that I hope to repeat if we are to start getting policy-makers thinking seriously about geothermal. CanGEA’s members produce more than 20 percent of the world’s geothermal energy …but not in Canada. Canada ranks far, far down the international ranking list for development of our geothermal potential. Unfortunately, in the absence of any national strategy, we are still a long way from being able to use this plentiful resource effectively.

If we are serious about renewable power and saving Canadians money, we need to start somewhere. The government could commission the creation of a Canadian geothermal map, for example. This detailed inventory would document geothermal potential across the country. It’s a prerequisite to development of our geothermal resources. Without knowing what the thermal gradient and potential for development we have, it’s hard to develop a resource.

Also key is government support for geothermal in the form of assistance in financing the high up-front costs of installing geothermal heating & cooling systems. It’s the one thing holding homeowners and other building owners back from embracing geothermal exchange systems, and in jump-starting a market that is poised for growth. The federal government’s recent cancellation of the ecoEnergy Home Retrofit program was a step in the wrong direction.

It is important that, as Canadians, we get smarter in developing our natural resources. Leading economies like China have woken up and realized that plentiful energy lies just below their feet, and they are investing heavily in geothermal. If we do the same, we can realise a much brighter energy future for all Canadians.

Bruce Hyer, MP