Geothermal: Sharing the Costs of Housing Infrastructure
In Winnipeg, a major subdivision has incorporated a unique feature into all its homes – geothermal heating. While geothermal systems have become quite commonplace in residences, the Manitoba experiment involves shared geothermal infrastructure, with one field and a handful of heat exchange systems servicing hundreds of homes.
The idea of shared infrastructure for homes is not new. Indeed, in the early 1900s, huge numbers of homes across Canada were constructed with shared living rooms (parlours), shared kitchens, and sometimes, shared bathrooms. Apartments are nothing more than homes with shared infrastructure, albeit a series of boxes stacked so as to maximize benefit from hall space, heating, plumbing & electrical. Many of these apartments now are being converted to condominiums. Modern garden townhomes modify the common infrastructure concept.
Geothermal systems that are designed to be used by more than one client offer unique advantages, and unique problems.
In one rural community, a seniors home built adjacent to a curling rink is exploring the idea of a shared geothermal system, with the seniors home extracting heat from the system and inputting cold fluids, while the curling rink is extracting the cool fluids and inputting heat. This symbiotic relationship provides a special efficiency to the common system model.
Geothermal, while carrying a high capital cost, virtually eliminates ongoing energy costs to operate, unlike natural gas or electric heat (which requires less capital but endless energy cost inputs). By joining with one or more neighbours, homeowners can reduce the capital cost, and all can save on the ongoing reduced energy requirements. However, by establishing a shared service agreement between current neighbours, new buyers of those existing homes must also agree to “buy into” the common infrastructure concept, and agree to indefinite easements.
When properties with shared agreements are assessed for value, the process becomes more complex in determining value. Clearly, though, the advantage of both reduced capital costs and virtually non-existent ongoing operating expense is too great to pass up, when the chance to share the value of an emerging, yet proven technology arises.