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What is geothermal energy?

RHI Energies is unique because it takes a long-term approach to eco-friendly heating and cooling.

Geothermal energy is a natural resource that can be used to conserve energy and environmental impact. Because of the system's ability to harness the earth’s natural heating and cooling capacities, it ends up consuming far less energy than traditional systems up to 45% in some cases we’ve worked on. This correlates to a reduction in carbon footprint of more than 50%.

High-efficiency ground source heat pumps provide wintertime heating by extracting heat from the ground and transferring it to the building. During the summer months, the process can be reversed so the heat pump extracts heat from the building and transfers it to the ground. Transferring heat to a cooler space takes less energy, so the cooling efficiency of the heat pump gain benefits from the lower ground temperatures.

Most installed systems have two loops on the ground side: the primary refrigerant loop is contained in the heat pump where it exchanges heat with a secondary water loop that is buried underground. The secondary loop installed into the ground is manufactured of high-density polyethene pipe and contains a mixture of water and anti-freeze (propylene / Ethylene glycol). After leaving the internal heat exchanger, the water flows through the secondary loop outside the building to exchange heat with the ground before returning. They can be installed in a number of configurations namely:

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Vertical ground source system

A vertical closed loop field is composed of pipes that run vertically in the ground. A 150mm diameter hole is bored into the ground, typically between 50–150 m deep. The pipe flow and return in the hole are joined by fusion welding with a U-shaped cross connector at the bottom of the hole. The borehole is then filled fully with a bentonite grout surrounding the pipe to provide a thermal connection to the surrounding soil or rock to improve the heat transfer, Thermally enhanced grouts are available to improve this heat transfer. Grout also protects the groundwater from contamination, from the surface down, and prevents artesian water from rising and being contaminated. Vertical loop fields are typically used when there is a limited area of land available. Bore holes are spaced at least 6-9 m apart and the depth depends on ground and building load profile which is a critical part of the bore field design process.

Horizontal ground source system

A Horizontal closed loop field is composed of HDPE pipes that run horizontally in the ground. A long horizontal trench, deeper than the frost line, is excavated and pipework or slinky coils are placed horizontally inside the same trench. Excavation for horizontal loop fields is cheaper than the cost of vertical drilling, so this system is utilized wherever there is adequate land available. A slinky closed loop field is a type of horizontal closed loop where the pipes overlay each other varying the diameter and pitch determines the amount of heat that is rejected into the trench. A slinky loop field is used if there is not adequate room for a true straight horizontal system, but it still allows for an easy installation. Straight pipe horizontal systems can be installed in a number of configurations 1,2,3,4, pipes in a single trench side by side or arranged vertically ensuring that the spacing is apart 700mm so they are able to reject/absorb heat.

Depending on soil, climate slinky coil trenches can be shorter than the horizontal straight pipe installation although this is very dependent also on the design model software capabilities. Slinky coil ground loops are essentially a more economic and space-efficient version of a horizontal ground loop.

Lake / Canal / Pond

Depending on the depth of the body of water and the proximity of the water a closed pond loop system can be employed using a slinky loop or a more highly technological stainless steel Geoplate. Slinky loops positioned on a raft is ideal for very shallow water systems and can be a very good solution from a cost and economic point of view. Geoplate are generally used for very high load systems 100kw and above but that’s not to say they cannot be used on smaller systems should the water depth be suitable. They are very reliable and due to their design offer high COP’s on the heat pumps. The main benefit of these types of water-based systems over direct lake pump systems is that there are no contaminates within the condenser loop. The system is sealed thus preventing silting of the condenser tubes or plate heat exchanger prolonging the life of the system maintaining maximum operating efficiency.

Open loop ground source system

The open loop system is monitored very closely by the Environment Agency. All systems have to be discussed in great detail prior to commencement in order to check the viability of the system. Failure to do so will lead to the system be shut down and heavy financial penalties being applied.

In an open loop system, the secondary loop pumps natural water from a well or body of water into a heat exchanger. This separates the borehole side from the load side. On the load side heat is either extracted or added by the primary refrigerant loop within the ground source heat pump and the water is returned to the plate. On the borehole side, the water is abstracted from the well through the plate heat exchanger where it is heated or cooled and then returned via an injection well, sewer or a body of water. The supply and return boreholes must be placed far enough apart to ensure that thermal recharge of the source do not interfere with the abstraction temperatures. Since the water chemistry is not controlled, the plate heat may from time to time require periodic cleaning. This is much more of a problem with cooling systems than heating systems. If the water contains high levels of salt, minerals, iron bacteria or hydrogen sulphide, or if low volumes of water are not available then a closed-loop system is usually preferable.

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