The History of Geothermal Energy in Residential Use

geothermal-history-of-heat-pump-residentialGround source heat pump technology is the wave of the future, but the concept isn’t new at all. In fact, Lord Kelvin developed the concept of the heat pump in 1852. In the late 1940s, Robert C. Webber, a cellar inventor, was experimenting with his deep freezer. He dropped the temperature in the freezer and touched the outlet pipe and almost burned his hand. He realized heat was being thrown away, so he ran outlets from his freezer to his boilers and provided his family with more hot water than they could use! There was still wasted heat, so he piped hot water through a coil and used a small fan to distribute heat through the house to save coal. Mr. Webber was so pleased with the results that he decided to build a full size heat pump to generate heat for the entire home. Mr. Webber also came up with the idea to pump heat from underground, where the temperature doesn’t vary much throughout the year. Copper tubing was placed in the ground and Freon gas ran through the tubing to gather the ground heat. The gas was condensed in the cellar, gave off its heat and forced the expanded gas to go through the ground coil to pick up another load. Air was moved by a fan and distributed into the home. The next year, Mr. Webber sold his old coal furnace.

In 1948 geothermal technology moves east when Professor Carl Nielsen of Ohio State University develops the first ground-source heat pump, for use at his residence. J.D. Krocker, an engineer in Portland, Oregon, pioneers the first commercial building use of a groundwater heat pump.

In the late 70’s Dr. James Bose, professor at Oklahoma State University came across the heat pump concept in an old engineering text. Dr. Bose used the idea to help a homeowner whose heat pump was dumping scalding water into his pool. Dr. Bose fashioned the heat pump to circulate the water through the pipes instead of dumping the water into the pool. This was the beginning of the new era in geothermal systems. Dr. Bose returned to Oklahoma State University and began to develop his idea. Since then, Oklahoma has become the center of ground source heat pump research and development.  In the 1970’s the Arab oil embargo awakened conservation awareness and launched interest in energy conservation despite cheap energy prices. In 1970, the Geothermal Resources Council was formed to encourage development of geothermal resources worldwide. In 1972, Geothermal Energy Association is formed. The association includes U.S. companies that develop geothermal resources worldwide for electrical power generation and direct-heat uses. In 1994 the DOE created two industry/government collaborative efforts to promote the use of geothermal energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One effort was directed toward the accelerated development of geothermal resources for electric power generation; the other was aimed toward the accelerated use of geothermal heat pumps.

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