Engineer Brain

In this episode of Renewable we talked with Jacob Komar, a geothermal engineer and a huge punk music fan. Although we got to learn about geothermal systems and his vision for a future that’s right below our feet, there are some fascinating things that didn’t make it to the final cut. For example, we weren’t able to hit on the relationship between geoexchange as an art form built on rebellion and the desire to make the world a better place. Nor about how geothermal is a natural evolution of one of our oldest energy sources – hot springs.

But one of our favorite moments from the interview came when we started asking Jacob how he narrowed his focus from engineering to geothermal systems specifically. Today, Jacob is passionate about sustainability and transitioning away from fossil fuels, so it seemed reasonable that this passion for sustainability fuelled his focus. Slowly though, we came to the conclusion that it all came down to Jacob’s engineer brain.

Jacob became interested in geoexchange because he is interested in efficiency, and once he wrapped his brain around the numbers, the technology made everything else look antiquated.

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City of Edmonton’s – Alfred H. Savage Centre has a geothermal system

So let’s dig into some of those numbers, to see if we can reproduce the cognitive shift that Jacob underwent at the start of his career. Geoexchange — which we explain in the episode but is, in simplest terms, moving energy from under the earth instead of producing it by burning fuel — is significantly more efficient at heating and cooling a building than the most popular alternative: natural gas.

How much more efficient specifically? The energy you’re putting into a geoexchange system goes into the heat pump — the electrically powered device that moves and extracts energy from — and throughout the loop that dips down from the building and into the earth. According to the Pembina institute, for each unit of energy that goes into that pump, you get back anywhere from 2 to 5 units of energy stored in the earth. That’s 200% to 500% efficiency. How does that compare with its main competitor? Well, the highest rated natural gas furnace caps out at 96%.

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Geoexchange can also contribute towards cooling and water heating. And since it’s electrically powered, as the grid gets cleaner so too does your home. This is all why Sweden — one of the most praised countries in terms of sustainability — has roughly 40% of buildings using some form of geoexchange.

To learn more about geoexchange, engineering, and digging holes in your yard to make the world a better place, check out this episode of Renewable.

Renewable is a series about visionaries, creators, community leaders and above all else, Edmontonians, each with a unique vision of a sustainable future in the heart of Canada’s fossil fuel industry.

The Renewable Series Team is composed of the City of Edmonton’s Energy Transition group and the creative minds at Sticks & Stones.

For more information visit Edmonton.ca/RenewableSeries

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