If you set out to buy a car and your options were a Model T or an electric vehicle, would it take you much time to decide which one to buy?
Now think about a house – if your choice was between a house powered by the electrical grid and oil-fired furnace that costs you a lot, and one that draws power from underground geothermal sources and sunlight at minimal cost, which would you choose?
The past, or the future? Renewable energy from the earth, or non-renewable sources that are like grinding up diamonds to put in our gas tanks (as Zimbabwean architect Mick Pearce memorably describes it.)
I hadn’t thought about it in quite those terms until I listened to Peter Merrigan of Taurus Investments, which is behind an amazing new housing development near Austin, Texas.
Whisper Valley really is a vision for a sustainable future. Its houses will become the living standard of the future in the US, he says.
The 2,067-acre eco-friendly master-planned community, when complete by 2035, will have seven villages set among 700 acres of parkland. Its ‘zero-energy capable” homes include solar panels to generate electricity and a geothermal heating and cooling system, to which the whole community is connected. Homeowners will save up to 65% on typical monthly energy costs.
“This sustainable, renewable energy system could greatly reduce energy consumption on a mass scale if implemented in new residential and commercial developments across the state and country, helping to offset the energy requirements needed for future climate-related grid constraints,” says EcoSmart.
EcoSmart Solution, which partnered with global real estate investment firm Taurus Investment Holdings (TIH) and Shell New Energies, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, to create sustainable and affordable real estate investments, describes its vision this way:
“Imagine if your home could generate its own clean, renewable energy. What if it could provide its own heating, cooling, hot water and electricity? And suppose it could lower consumption, safeguard the environment and save money? That’s precisely the big idea behind our EcoSmart Solution technology.”
The GeoGrid’s hybrid loop system stores thermal energy in the earth during hot months, and then uses the stored thermal energy in the winter to heat homes much more efficiently than conventional systems. The EcoSmart program also includes smart home technology and an energy monitoring system in every home to maximize energy efficiency.
“The EcoSmart geothermal equipped home is already less energy intensive than a conventional home,” says Eco-Smart. “The physics of the geothermal system enable a house to use one unit of energy to deliver approximately four units of temperature conditioning, resulting in far less energy draw than a conventional house. This lowers peak demands on the utility and minimizes the amount of onsite energy production or storage a house needs, lessening dependence on the power grid.”
So what happens if the weather is extreme, you might wonder? Well, geothermal energy has powered much of Iceland for many years now, and Iceland’s climate is a cold one. But in Texas itself, Whisper Valley successfully weathered the February 15, 2021 winter storm that overwhelmed the state’s electricity infrastructure and caused massive power outages across Texas.
“During last February’s unprecedented storm, our GeoGrid performed beyond admirably in extreme conditions, which further proves that it is a revolutionary energy solution, that can be applied to various geographical regions,” said John Towle, CEO of EcoSmart. “Through EcoSmart’s state-of-the-art efficiency monitoring tools, we knew exactly how the heat pumps were performing at all times during the winter storm and are pleased to report there were no weather-related damages to our customers’ homes in Whisper Valley.”
In the UK, Kensa’s innovative ground source heat pumps and shared ground loop arrays are delivering efficient and affordable heating for tenants of more than 2,600 properties in Yorkshire and Lancashire, including social housing. Kensa, which won an Ashden Award for its work, is working to develop skills and training in the community, and lobbying to increase uptake of this low-carbon heating technology. Work to connect a further 500 properties started in 2021.
“The social housing sector has the potential to be a market-maker for the application of green technologies at scale in our homes,” says Patrick Berry of Carbon Reduction for Together Housing Group, a social housing provider which partners with Kensa Groups. “That investment will drive the growth in the green economy, particularly in a post-pandemic world where new sustainable employment is required. ”
The UK government has said that gas and oil boilers will be banned in new homes by 2025, and that 600,000 heat pumps will be installed by 2028, says Ashden. Two of Kensa Group’s recent innovations could make ground source heat pumps an attractive option in huge numbers of homes.
The first is shared ground loops, which enable more than one heat pump to be connected to a ground array, usually a borehole for multiple-occupancy dwellings. Because drilling boreholes is a major part of the cost for a ground source heat pump, shared ground loops make them more affordable and also allow installation in tight spaces with less disruption.
Kensa’s second recent innovation is the Shoebox heat pump, which is compact enough to fit into small flats, quiet, reliable, easy to maintain and can heat domestic hot water without an immersion heater backup. Installation takes just a few days, including plumbing to replace storage heaters with radiators, Ashden says
Kensa employs 140 people, including resident liaison officers, who help people understand the heat pumps and advise on energy efficiency measures. It provides in-house training for installers and also gives them free support to get accreditation from MCS, the UK’s standards body for low-carbon home electricity and heating.
If you, like me, are just learning about heat pumps and geothermal energy, you might want to have a look at this informative Just Have a Think video, which explains it clearly.
Geothermal Energy meets Master Planned Communities : A blueprint for the future? Just have a think, May 30, 2021
Whisper Valley website.
Whisper Valley – East Austin’s New Zero-Energy Capable Community. You Tube, Jul. 3, 2018
Kensa Group. Ashden Awards.
Geothermal ground source heat pumps. Heating your home from your own back yard! Just Have A Think, Oct. 4, 2020
How the Earth’s Crust Pumps Power Into These Texas Homes. Daily Beast, Jun. 15, 2022.
An interesting update:
Who owns Britain’s underground heat? Answering this could help slash energy bills and carbon emissions. The Conversation, Feb. 16, 2022
Houses in this Texas development pay just $1 a month in energy bills. Here’s how. Fast Company, Apr. 1, 2022