On June 12 New England energy company Eversource broke ground on a networked geothermal pilot project in Framingham, Massachusetts. The geothermal pilot, a collaboration between Eversource and Framingham’s local government, aims to showcase the viability and benefits of geothermal technology in residential areas. The pilot program is set to span several years, with selected homes in the Framingham area being equipped with geothermal heating and cooling systems.
Geothermal heating systems run water through underground pipes to pick up heat from the ground and transfer it to buildings to provide heating during the winter. In the summer the system can essentially run in reverse, transferring heat from buildings to the ground. Since energy is only used to run the pumps and other equipment, geothermal produces less greenhouse gas emissions than heating homes with fossil gas.
As Grid has covered, PGW’s 2021 Business Diversification Study explored the challenges facing the utility as well as potential paths forward. As gas users cut back by installing more-efficient gas appliances or electric alternatives to replace older gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves, demand for PGW’s product declines, along with its revenue. The costs of maintaining its 3,046 miles of gas mains and the 476,600 smaller pipes that come off those mains to connect with customers will remain fixed or increase. PGW then needs to charge more per unit of gas to cover those fixed costs, driving consumers to cut back even more or completely drop gas in favor of electricity. As this spiral winds down, the last consumers remaining will be those who can least afford the higher costs.
The diversification study pointed towards a switch to providing geothermal heating and cooling as a promising and comparatively practical option for PGW. As PGW studies how it would implement a geothermal pilot, Framingham’s system can serve as a model.