Congressional Relief Package Includes Big Renewable Energy Enhancements
The latest battle to cut California’s addiction to natural gas will not be easy but there may have some alternative solutions. Congress included $900 billion to curb the spiraling Covid 19 Pandemic and prevent a government shutdown but it also carries some landmark legislation: a substantial step to challenge climate change while expanding renewable energy resources.
The package is as much a stimulus as relief by providing new tax credits for renewable energy, carbon capture and sequestering by collecting and recycling carbon products. It also funds billions of dollars for energy research and potential demonstration projects of alternate energy, energy storage, small grid technology and, with some distain, nuclear power.
Is there an alternative fuel source that could provide more energy, at less cost while reducing our dependence on nature gas production? Well, it’s all around us: the earth.
We all know that the earth’s temperature is amazingly temperate the further down we drill into the ground. This could be a major boost to Ground Source Heat Pump, GSHP, a heat transferring system that transforms heat to or from the ground, ground water, surface water or any other surface natural feature to provide space heating and cooling. These devices, commonly used in hotels and single room facilities, are the most energy efficient and low carbon space conditioning systems available today. A GSHP System can be expensive on a house-by-house bases, but for a neighborhood, community or city they could be just the ticket.
Vertical ground group systems utilize the temperature differential between the ground and the interior space to transfer heat, in or out. These systems consist of one or more heat pumps that are connected to a series of vertical pipes usually made of high-density polyethylene. These 4” to 6” pipes form a closed loop and can be 100 to 500 feet deep. The greater the depths, the greater the pipe diameters, the greater the heat exchange. Usually, water is the thermal energy transfer agent into a buildings HVAC system for winter heating and summer cooling.
Designing a GSHP system is not that complex. Heating and cooling demands are often the opposite and pipes can be buried horizontally as well.
In order to serve a community, a Geo-Micro District is required to administer a ground-source heat pump system. The objective is to serve multiple existing homes or multifamily units or a new community where it could be executed as part of the initial infrastructure design. Essentially, it’s like a small neighborhood water or recreation district, serving its local inhabitants.
The other concern we should all be aware of on the horizon is how we are going to continue to service our existing communities with aging 25 to 100 year old gas pipes. In eastern states such as Massachusetts, pipe infrastructures are failing and need to be replaced. The state is seriously looking at GMDs as a means of serving existing communities whose gas pipe infrastructure are too old to continue operations.
Our existing lead and plastic pipe infrastructure supplying natural gas, currently from PG&E, is unsustainable. Eventually, in our lifetime, these pipes will all have to be replaced.
Other Covid Relief Bill Rewards
There is more good news for renewables in the Covid Relief Bill. The legislation provides a two-year extension of the solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and additional funding for research and development, including tax relief on soft costs, critical to distributed energy deployment. There is controversial issues of providing more access to federal lands for renewable energy projects, but that requires more exploration.
Under this legislation, the solar ITC will remain at 26% for projects that begin construction in 2021 and 2022, step down to 22% in 2023, and down to 10% in 2024 for commercial projects while the residential credit ends completely. Companies beginning construction on projects in 2021 would still have a four-year period to place their projects in service to take advantage of the ITC, with the statutory deadline for projects placed in service reset to before Jan. 1, 2026.
“Passage of this bill represents real forward progress on climate change and clean energy." said Lindsey Griffith, federal policy director at the Clean Air Task Force, who calls the package "the most significant U.S. federal climate legislation to date.”
As our state, and eventually our nation, moves towards all electric power, we need to find more alternate ways of reducing our carbon footprint, or we will remain dependent upon fossil fuel generated energy. Sun, wind and geo-thermo should be in our tool kit as renewables take over.
Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB