With the existential threat of climate change comes increased urgency to electrify society’s energy systems. Transitioning to electric vehicles is essential, but so too is the electrification of heating buildings which are responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions.  In cold climates, like the Northeast US, the most viable technology to electrify heating is using  geothermal heat pumps to harness the naturally occurring thermal energy in the shallow subsurface. 

Over the past decade my research has been focusing on developing technologies that will lead to greater use of geothermal heat pump (GHP) systems.  Much like the development of groundwater as a resource to meet important societal needs for drinking water and irrigation, thermal energy in the shallow subsurface can be developed as a source of renewable energy to meet the societal need to heat and cool buildings, without relying on fossil fuels.  

ghp_schematic GHP technology is particularly applicable in cold climates, like the Northeast US, where winter temperatures are near 0 ℉ and air-source heat pumps cannot capture enough heat from the air to meet the building heating demand without reverting to electric resistance heating.  If deployed at scale, air-source heat pumps would create a winter peak on the electric grid that would exceed the summer peak, at a time when availability of natural gas is limited.   Because GHP technology captures thermal energy from the shallow subsurface, it can maintain efficiency at very cold air temperatures.

The transition to GHPs will take time, just as society's transition from wood to coal to oil to gas over the past two centuries -- and faces several key obstacles.  The first obstacle is confidence in the technology: , building owners will not adopt a technology that has a risk of failure or poor performance.   The second obstacle is the relatively high upfront cost of a GHP system.   Depending on the cost of electricity (to run the GHP) relative to the fossil fuel (oil or gas), GHP systems have the potential to cut heating bills by 60%.   Many business models have been proposed to address the upfront investment costs but most rely on the ability to quantify the risks.  Central to overcoming these obstacles is the collection and analysis of data from actual GHP systems. 

Research has focused on developing technologies to cost-effectively monitor GHP systems and develop methods ofanalysis and data management that can address the needs of multiple stakeholders.    More detailed description of these activities can be found in tabs above.