Skip to main content

By Michael Kraten, PhD, CPA 

How do we heat our buildings? Many of us, of course, burn oil and gas in furnaces. Others employ electricity that is generated in power plants that do likewise. And some utilize solar and wind power that is generated by light panels and air blades.

But have you considered the possibility of geothermal heat? Historically, this option involved the transfer of existing heat from natural subterranean sources (such as hot springs or volcanic magma) to above-ground buildings. New technologies, though, are enabling us to develop alternative geothermal solutions.

For instance, what if we could extract unwanted heat from our buildings during the summer and store it for winter use? Or what if our urban buildings could capture heat from industrial sources such as sewer systems and subway networks? We wouldn’t need natural subterranean sources of heat to employ these options. Instead, we’d simply need material that could: (a) “sponge up” such heat wherever and whenever it is found and then (b) be “squeezed” to produce heat for our buildings during the winter season.

Conceptually, it’s a reasonable approach. But what material can serve as “sponge” of heat energy? Just as limestone can soak up atmospheric carbon as a long-term storage option, metal pipes in deep underground facilities can store geothermal heat for future use. Such processes are already in place or under development in a variety of locations, including academic institutions and large-scale residential developments.

So let’s not assume that our traditional carbon based systems – or even our current solar and wind electrical systems – will always serve as our primary options for heating our buildings. Many engineers are thinking “outside the box” to design superior geothermal systems; all we need is a single project that can provide a feasible alternative.

Originally published at All rights reserved by author.