Help at your fingertips. As buildings look for ways to meet carbon-emissions caps and avoid fines under the Climate Mobilization Act’s Local Law 97, geothermal energy systems can be a viable option for properties with a large enough footprint and the space to install them. And there’s a free online resource to help boards determine whether geothermal really is a good fit for their co-op or condo: The Geothermal Tool at bit.ly/nycgeothermal.
Type in your address, and the tool instantly generates a chart showing the feasibility of retrofitting your building’s heating and cooling systems. Geothermal energy systems tap into the heat that’s stored underground, which requires boring into the ground and creating either a series of pipes buried in vertical wells or a horizontal network of pipes connected to electric heat pumps to circulate water or a liquid refrigerant. In winter, the pumps extract heat from the ground and transfer it into the building; in summer, heat is absorbed from the building and discharged into the ground.
Yes/No results. As a result, a high-rise building is less suited to geothermal than, say, a garden-style complex that covers a larger area and has more outdoor space for installing piping, says Tristan Schwartzman, the director of energy services at Goldman Copeland Associates, the engineering consulting firm that designed the Geothermal Tool. “It will clearly tell you ‘no’ if geothermal isn’t viable,” he says. “But if a building is a good candidate, the tool will show the cost of installing the system, the average monthly energy savings, and the estimated payback period before the system pays for itself and the building recoups its investment. It’s a kind of steppingstone for boards that are looking at electrification to improve their energy performance.”
Michael Scorrano, the managing director at the energy-services company En-Power Group, agrees. “The tool is a good first step for co-ops and condos to get a sense of their potential for geothermal,” he says. “That’s clearly more of a challenge in Manhattan, where buildings are packed in, there’s limited space underfoot, and installation is more costly — as opposed to Queens or the Bronx.”
Attention to detail. A similar tool, Westchester GeoPossibilities (https://geopossibilities.ny.gov), is also available for property owners in Westchester County. It allows building owners to sign up for screening with a NYSERDA consultant, who will gather additional information on their existing heating and cooling systems and energy costs. “Basically, they’ll take another look at your building for free to fine-tune the estimates and provide a little more guidance,” Schwartzman says.
“It’s important for boards to keep in mind that this is a pre-screening tool that gives you an idea of whether geothermal is worth investigating,” adds Schwartzman, who says boards need to have additional studies performed by engineers in order to understand all of the system’s requirements. “The other caveat is that the tool’s current data doesn’t take into account inflation,” he adds, “so everything is going to cost more.”