brief geothermal heat pump history

An Admittedly Brief Geothermal Heat Pump History


Geothermal heat pumps are great, but do they have a history of reliability and performance? We could just say, “Yep.” That’s kind of unsatisfying though. What would be better is if we gave you a brief geothermal heat pump history lesson.


So, let’s do that.


Your Brief Geothermal Heat Pump History Lesson


Heat pump technology, generally speaking, has been around for a while. How long is ‘a while’? The great English scientist, Lord Kelvin, hypothesized how a heat pump might work way back in 1853. He never got around to actually building one though.


The world didn’t have to wait long. The first functional heat pump would pop up in Austria in 1855. As well as being blessed with the most Germanic name in history, Peter Ritter von Rittinger used that first heat pump to dry salt out of marshes. Sure, it sounds weird, but salt was a big commodity back then.


I hope it was anyway. Herr Von Rittinger was using cutting edge tech to get to it.


And that’s our brief geothermal heat pump history!


Just Kidding


After 1855, there is a long lull in heat pump development. Willis Carrier would invent the first conventional air conditioner, basically a heat pump, in the early 20th century, but WWI and WWII put a real crimp on R&D dollars.


Finally, in the late 1940’s, Robert C. Webber designed and built the first ground-source (aka geothermal) heat pump. By 1946, a commercial unit, the first of its kind, was running in the Commonwealth Building in Portland, Oregon.


Geothermal technology was finally here to stay, right?


Not Exactly


Conventional air conditioners of the era had horrible efficiency by modern standards, but it didn’t matter. Electricity cost almost nothing, and fuel-oil for winter heating was cheap. There was minimal financial incentive to invest in geothermal.


As you’re almost certainly aware, this state of affairs did not endure. The various oil crises of the 1970’s drove energy efficiency efforts around the world. The first wide-scale use of geothermal systems started in Sweden shortly thereafter. Sweden’s cold winter weather made geothermal an ideal HVAC solution. The technology spread to the rest of Europe from there.


Today, geothermal heat pump systems continue to grow in popularity. There are two main drivers: increasing energy costs and an increasing public desire for energy conservation. Approximately 80,000 new geothermal heat pump systems are installed in the United States every year, and the trend shows no sign of decline anytime soon.


And there is your brief geothermal heat pump history.


You’re quite welcome.


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