by Michael Lerner
The first ever comprehensive standard for geothermal systems in commercial and residential buildings applicable for both the U.S. and Canada has just been released. Drawn up by CSA Group, the Geothermal Exchange Organization (GEO), and other industry stakeholders from both countries, the standard outlines requirements and best practices for geothermal project design, installation, and decommissioning.
Counterintuitively, the standard is the first-ever for the U.S. – which is the world’s top producer of geothermal energy – while it has been in place since 2002 in Canada, which has virtually zero geothermal production. Industry groups have praised the new standard, because it will lead to “uniformity of public policy,” as Doug Dougherty, GEO’s president and CEO affirmed.
Despite having widespread, top-quality geothermal potential throughout the country, Canada does not have any regulatory pathway to operating geothermal plants. Alison Thompson, founder and president of the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, said that without favorable tax and policy structures in place, finding investors to back geothermal projects (which are capital intensive in the early stages) has been near impossible. “We’ve been in this valley of death,” she despaired, but added she hopes public awareness about geothermal as well as increasing government interest might get things moving in a positive direction.
On an encouraging note, Alberta is undertaking Canada’s first-ever conversion of an abandoned oil well to capture geothermal energy, aided by localized solar and wind systems. “Alberta has nearly 170,000 abandoned oil wells. Converting them to geothermal energy helps oil companies’ bottom line, cuts down methane leakage, produces free energy and gets oil service firms back to work,” said Mitchell Pomphrey, manager of the Living Energy Project. He added, “It’s win-win-win for the industry, taxpayers and the environment.”
Canada’s nascent geothermal industry is finally picking up steam.