Geothermal energy gets focus in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Geothermal energy gets focus in Aspen

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – A market-driven renewable energy technology that is purported to cut energy expenditures in half for its users is in the preliminary stages of being developed in Aspen.

Officials are looking to gain grant funding for geothermal well surveys that a city spokeswoman said could possibly work for much of the town’s energy infrastructure.

Paul Bony, marketing manager of the Delta-Montrose Energy Association, touted the new technology Thursday at the Colorado Utility Energy Exchange, a conference on state energy technology opportunities hosted by the city of Aspen.

Experts estimate that, if all houses were able to cut their energy usage in half, the United States would expend 10 million megawatts of power, he said.

Studies on Habitat for Humanity-built houses that use geothermal units found they cut site energy costs by 50 percent.

“It’s the only system that can put more energy out than goes in,” Bony told a small audience of state energy officials in the Doerr Hosier Center at The Aspen Institute. It “doesn’t matter what you’re heating or cooling with; we’ll cut that in half.”

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Geothermal pumps work two ways: They pump heat into the earth – known as a heat sink – during the summer months, and they draw heat from the earth during winter.

“Energy efficiency isn’t just a free lunch,” Bony said, quoting a friend. “It’s the lunch you get paid to eat.”

But it’s not easy to incorporate geothermal units, especially in a municipal energy infrastructure, because the technology is not that well accepted in the American energy industry.

A number of barriers can impede geothermal technology from being adopted by many communities and homes, including a higher cost of installation.

Bony said that, though the United States uses “more energy than any other civilized country in the world,” it falls far behind other countries in using geothermal technology. He noted Sweden, which created the technology. Many northern European countries use geothermal heat pumps for a large percentage of their single-family homes.

“In the U.S., we’re little laggers,” he said. “We only use about 2 percent.”

City spokeswoman Sally Spaulding said that infrastructure in Aspen would have to change, taking a similar identity to what it looked like during Aspen’s mining boom in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

“People would have to do a lot of retrofitting,” Spaulding said. “It would almost be like a special district.”

ahedge@aspentimes.com