Heat pump to reduce energy use undergoing tests 

A 200-foot hole will be drilled into Richmond district soil to test whether the air is dense enough to help heat and air condition veterans facilities aboveground.

The ground-source heat pump would be the second in The City — the other one is at City College of San Francisco’s Balboa Reservoir — and could help the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reach its goal of cutting its energy use by 3 percent, an annual mandate for all federal buildings.

However, it has to be tested first by sending a pump through a hole about 4 inches in diameter so officials can check how fast the air dissipates after a fluid carries it up through a steal pipe and releases it into the air.

It’s one of several alternatives to building two wind turbines with 30-foot blades for a more sustainable energy source, an idea that was rejected by the community this year, VA spokeswoman Judi Cheary said.

“There were healthy concerns by our neighbors,” Cheary said. “We’re a historical landmark, and I think they take great pride in what the neighborhood looks like. The turbines weren’t the right fit.”

In an ideal situation, the air underground would be dense enough to maintain its temperature until it hits filters aboveground and helps raise or lower the indoor temperature once released to cut the workload for the air conditioner or heater.

“The exchange of the heat through the earth takes less energy than if you have to do it through the air,” said Curt Robinson, executive director of the nonprofit Geothermal Resources Council.

The technology has been around for decades, but it’s just beginning to become more popular, he said.

It’s more commonly called a geothermal well, even though the technical difference is that a heat pump is only 200 feet underground and geothermal wells are usually more than 1,000 feet.

“It’s not totally inaccurate to call it a geothermal well, but it does make it a little confusing for people like me,” Robinson said.

The VA will consider any public comments until June 17 before digging up the test well for its 29-acre facility.



Drilling for heat

A proposed heat pump would take air from underground and deliver it aboveground, where it could reduce the energy used by heaters and air conditioners.

Site: 29 acres
Depth of heat pumps: About 200 feet
Depth of geothermal wells: 1,000 feet
Goal: Decrease energy use by 3 percent
Test-hole diameter: 4 inches
Test-hole depth: 200 feet
Temperature of ideal air: 55 degrees

Sources: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Geothermal Resources Council

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