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Geothermal Energy

A hot topic that’s also a cool conversation

March 2024

Illustration of vertical loop for geothermal

When using a geothermal unit, about 75% of the heating and cooling energy comes from the earth. (Images courtesy Will Lange)

by Will Lange, Contributing Columnist

In a world of traditional, fossil fuel-based heating and cooling systems, solar panels on roofs and vast wind farms, you may never have given much thought to another renewable: geothermal heat pumps.

These “geo” heat pumps aren’t flashy, or even noticeable to your neighbors. There are no telltale changes to your roof or your driveway; they quietly operate underground through water pipes, always hard at work heating and cooling homes across the country and around the world.

But why would a co-op member take the time and effort to invest in a geo system for their home?

Most importantly, geo systems reduce homeowner heating and cooling costs by more than 50%. If you research “geothermal savings calculator” your results will take you to several calculators that will show your home’s potential savings. Try a few and see for yourself.

Another important reason to “go geo” is that the systems are all electric. This can eliminate the need to buy propane or have a gas line in your home. Because modern geo systems typically provide “free hot water” from compressor heat, they pair perfectly with modern heat pump water heaters.

geothermal unit

A geothermal unit easily integrates into your current heating and cooling system.

These steps will lower expenses with fewer bills as you transition your home to all electric.

While 100% of the energy that goes into a geo system is electric, about 75% of the heating and cooling energy coming out is renewable energy from the earth. Sure, it may take $50 a month to operate a geo heat pump, but the total output — with the ground energy — is four times that much.

And the best part is a geo heat pump should be unaffected by cold snaps or heat waves. With the outdoor compressor unit gone, these systems can operate uninterrupted in any weather. In fact, the underground piping will last over 100 years, while the indoor system should last 25-30 years.

Realizing geo heat pumps are both renewable energy systems and expensive to install, the IRS is providing 30% tax credits to qualified homeowners through 2032. If your geo system costs $30,000, you may be eligible for a $9,000 reduction in your tax bill that can be spread out over multiple years. In some areas there are additional state tax credits and other incentives, the member services experts at your co-op may be able to help you navigate these incentives.