Maritime Geothermal thrives on demand for green energy

PETITCODIAC, NEW BRUNSWICK - The economic crunch hitting Canadian business isn't a threat to the folks at Maritime Geothermal Ltd.

In fact, said company president Glenn Kaye, factors driving the economic downturn increasing oil and energy costs are increasing demand for their products. The company manufactures geothermal heat pumps for distribution all over the world.

"Our primary market is Canada, so I think we'll see continued growth," he said, noting of all the energy industries, renewables are anticipated to see the greatest benefit in upcoming years.

Geothermal energy is the process of extracting heat energy from the ground through a refrigeration process, Kaye explained.

"The ground is constantly being heated by the sun and the earth acts as a storage medium," he said, noting geothermal energy is indirect solar energy.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Maritime Geothermal Ltd.

has operated out of Petitcodiac since 1983. Kaye started out in the well drilling business in the 1970s but became interested in the geothermal aspect of drilling and switched over in 1981.

"People found it hard to understand how you could heat a house with cold water," he recalled.

The company became a pioneer in the geothermal technology in Canada. In 2003, it built a modern manufacturing plant and test lab. It now supplies markets across Canada, the United States and Europe.

"Most of our competition in equipment is from the United States. There's no other [geothermal] manufacturer in Canada of our scope," said Kaye.

Geothermal energy provides an environmentally friendly alternative to oil or electricity for residential and commercial heating and cooling needs.

"It runs for a quarter the cost of oil and electricity," he said.

Geothermal systems run on electricity, but only a quarter of the amount it would take to heat with it.

"Every time we sell a machine, the homeowners are so happy with it they tell others," he said. "There's a big future in geothermal energy. It's a good growth industry."

The above-ground unit of a residential geothermal system doesn't take up much room and is smaller than an oil furnace, about the same size as an electric furnace, he said. The underground, closed-loop part of the system may be laid out in a system of horizontal loops to circulate water through the earth, or a vertical system. In some areas options may be restricted by municipal bylaws.

"Collector fields don't have to take a lot of room," Kaye explained. Rather than horizontal arrays, people may choose to use vertical or angled bore holes, which can be arrayed under a driveway, for example, covering a space 10 feet wide and 40 feet long.

Residential units cost about $5,000 to $6,000, or $15,000 to $20,000 with full installation provided, but pay for themselves in about five years, Kaye said.

"It's a renewable system with a long, proven track record and a payback."

Geothermal heat pumps are working throughout the province, in places such as the Cape Jourimain Nature Centre near the New Brunswick end of the Confederation Bridge, and in-floor hot-water geothermal heating systems at the Apohaqui Community Church and the newly renovated Sussex Legion.

Born in the Petitcodiac area, Kaye opted to grow his business there. Business is conducted through trade shows, dealers and Internet marketing with virtually no walk-in customers, and the location serves the business well in terms of its trucking needs, "so why not do it here in Petitcodiac," he said.

In the last couple of years, the staff has doubled from six to 12 people, "and we'll be putting more people on staff," Kaye said.

He anticipates a growing demand for geothermal energy as oil and electricity prices continue to rise.

In ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels, government funding is available to people incorporating geothermal units into home retrofits, he said.

The Canadian federal government offers a $3,500 incentive program and the provincial government has a complementary $2,000 grant, or homeowners may opt for the $10,000 interest-free loan available for geothermal retrofits.

Although the company provides geothermal units across North America and Europe, they've really only encountered questions about the environmental implications of the systems locally.

The municipalities of Sussex and Sussex Corner were concerned with protecting their drinking water aquifers and whether loop fluids, used to keep water from freezing in underground pipes in geothermal systems, could contain contaminants.

Loop fluids may be ethanol (grain alcohol) or propylene glycol (food-grade antifreeze) approved for use in geothermal energy systems.

"They're not toxic per se and there have never been any issues with them," he said.

The company obtained a set of bylaws regarding geothermal heat pumps from the City of Calgary for the Village of Sussex Corner to use as reference in developing a bylaw about heat pumps. The Town of Sussex is in the process of approving its own geothermal bylaw.



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