When most people think of geothermal heat pumps, they think new technology. The positive connotation of new technology is advancement, but many link new technologies to risk and technical bugs. Such is not the case with geothermal heat pumps because they have been in existence since Lord Kelvin developed the concept in 1852. Robert C. Webber put the concept into practical use in the 1940s by inventing the first direct exchange ground source heat pump for his home. The first successful commercial geothermal project was installed in the Commonwealth Building (Portland, Oregon) in 1946. This was also the first fully air conditioned commercial office building.
In this 1948 magazine article, Life Magazine profiled the General Engineering and Manufacturing Company’s “Miracula” closed loop geothermal heat pump for cooling and heating. 64 years ago, the prediction was made that “as the efficiency of getting the heat from the earth improves, it is almost certain that eventually the heat pump will be able to compete successfully with conventional heaters in most localities.” Today, a 30% Federal Tax Credit and local incentives have made that statement a reality, at least until 2016. The main impediments to geothermal heat pumps becoming a dominant market mainstay are really only the local cost of drilling and the initial capital expense associated with installation. Should the Federal incentives move from tax credit based to rebate based, geothermal growth would be astronomical.