Today the accelerating warming of the global surface atmosphere is an unequivocal observation. This is leading to widespread melting of snow and ice, and sea levels are expected to rise by over 3mm per year.
It is considered very likely – with more than 90% certainty – that the main cause of this climatic change over the last 50 years is the increasing global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide as a result of human burning of fossil fuels and their destruction of vegetated land.
All serious scientific bodies back this viewpoint and the populace is increasingly demanding action from all governments on the planet. The good news is that bi-partisan support for clean energy now exists in Australia and associated corporate activity is increasing.
The renewable energy sector in Australia is currently rapidly expanding in response to governmental and societal demand. This last year has seen a significant rise in public awareness of the issue due to the extensive media coverage of climate change.
Australia has committed to a 20% Renewable Energy Target (RET) by 2020 and recently ratified the Kyoto protocol requiring the collective average emissions to be 5% below 1990 levels by 2010.
At the December-2007 Bali United Nations Climate Change Conference, the EU pressed industrialised nations to commit to cuts of 25-40% by 2020.
Victoria has committed to cut emissions to 60% below 2000-levels by 2050 and as such is defining the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) which provides a mechanism for driving reductions in household emissions and investing $14 million in a rebate program for retrofitting inefficient appliances including air-conditioners.
With electricity production as Australia’s largest single source of emissions (e.g. 55% in Victoria, figure 1), these targets present an enormous opportunity for clean-energy technologies including solar photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, solar hot water heaters and geothermal heat pumps (GHPs).
The Ernst & Young Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index indicates that the global market for clean and renewable energy will be worth
$US750 billion a year by 2016.
Renewable electricity sources including solar photovoltaic cells, wind turbines, and geothermal hot-rock turbines are crucial for meeting the Renewable Energy Target. However the cheapest and most environmentally friendly power station is the one you don’t have to build!
Solar hot-water heaters are subsidized and attract Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) in Australia – a clear precedent for Geothermal Heat Pumps that save up to 70 per cent of air-conditioning electricity.
Internationally, Geothermal Heat Pumps play a key role in reducing carbon emissions. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified Geothermal Heat Pumps as a technology that significantly reduces greenhouse gas and other air emissions associated with heating, cooling and water heating residential buildings, while saving consumers money, compared to conventional technologies:
The installed capacity for direct geothermal heat use was 16,209 MWth in 2000 globally and 109.5 MWth or 2968 TJ/year in Australia.
There are over a million geo-exchange installations in the U.S. with 50,000 being added annually.
Oil prices exceeding US$100 per barrel increase the economic attractiveness of all renewable technologies.
Geothermal energy is fully renewable because the water is replenished by rainfall, and the heat is continuously produced by the earth. This heat is as inexhaustible and renewable as solar energy.
Government rebate schemes for GHPs exist in the U.S., Canada and U.K. setting a clear precedent for Australia. The federal government’s environmental policy proposes a $240 million Clean Business Fund and $150 million Energy Innovation Fund, which can encompass a Geothermal Heat Pump rebate. The Australian Geothermal Energy Association (AGEA), which entails both geothermal hot-rock & heat-pump technologies, was founded in 2007 and will actively lobby for GHP rebates.
Recent Corporate activity bodes well for a Geothermal Heat Pump venture: Origin invested $150 million into a Geodynamics (hot-rock) venture in December 2007, and earlier in 2007, The Bosch Group purchased FHP Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of geothermal heat pumps based in Fort Lauderdale FHP which generated sales of $51 million in the fiscal year 2005-2006.
“In a major step to tackle climate change, a Rudd Labor Government will significantly expand the use of solar, wind and geothermal energy”
Australian Labour Party (Media statement – 30th October 2007)
“Australia will need a comprehensive portfolio of clean energy solutions for a low-carbon economy. Accelerating global innovation and deployment of renewable energy remains a key part of our effective climate change response.”
Liberal Party of Australia (Media statement – 27th October 2007)
“We believe that geothermal energy will play an increasing role in securing the world’s future needs for clean energy.”
Grant King, Managing Director of Origin Energy.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has rated EarthLinked the most environmentally clean and efficient conditioning system. Read the full EPA report here.