Heat Beneath Our Feet

Dave Hatherton is an unsung Canadian hero. But it won’t be long until he is recognized as a world leader in developing renewable energy technology.

Born the son of a water well driller in southern Ontario, Hatherton went to work for his dad after high school. One winter day his hands were so cold and painful he asked if he could go home early. “Just put your hands in the well water,” his dad advised. Young Hatherton was amazed to find the well water warmed his hands on a bitterly cold day and he was soon back at work.

Realizing the earth contained energy, Hatherton set out on a journey to develop one of today’s leading renewable technologies—geothermal energy.

Hatherton discovered that nearly half the sun’s energy is absorbed by the earth’s surface, resulting in a stable temperature of 10ºC at a depth of 3 meters. Solar energy stored under a typical home or building is many times the amount needed for heating, cooling, and producing domestic hot water. But how can the energy be harnessed? The answer is a heat pump—the same technology used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

Heat is collected by circulating water through a system of underground pipes called the “loop”. The 10°C water is piped to the heat pump inside the home where its temperature is magnified to 40°C. A water-to-air heat exchanger and fan deliver hot air through typical air ducts, or the hot water is piped through the floor for radiant heating. In warm weather the heat pump reverses itself, pumping warm air out of the house and into the ground. Geothermal systems can also supply hot water for bathing and cleaning, thus completely eliminating the need for fossil fuels in buildings.

After designing his own system in the 1980s, Hatherton joined forces with Dan Ellis, an engineer from Indiana. The resulting Waterfurnace International (whose building is heated and cooled with geothermal energy) in Fort Wayne now has US$50 million in annual sales.

To promote the technology, Hatherton brought electrical utility companies into a coalition with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department. Based in Washington, DC, the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium has spurred double-digit growth in geothermal installations across the United States.

In 2000, Hatherton brought his energy back to Canada, where he set up NextEnergy Solutions in his home town of Elmira, Ontario. Ellis became CEO of Oklahoma City’s ClimateMaster, the largest manufacturer of heat pumps. Hatherton took on the role of distributor and packager of ClimateMaster geothermal systems, allowing his own NextEnergy to earn a place amongst Canada’s 50 fastest-growing companies in 2002.

Not only is NextEnergy Canada’s largest distributor of geothermal systems, its headquarters is a model of sustainability. To make his building 100% renewable, Hatherton bought long-term contracts for wind-generated electricity to power heat pumps, appliances and lighting. The result is zero CO² emission.

Canada has signed the Kyoto Protocol, pledging to reduce CO² emissions and lower the risk of global warming. Geothermal energy promises to help fulfill that pledge. More than any politician—where we should expect leadership—Dave Hatherton is leading the way. There is no reason why the rest of us can’t follow suit.

NextEnergy Solutions can be reached through www.nextenergysolutions.com.

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