Geothermal heating… Geo=ground… thermal=heat. Someone told me the other day that it was really hot under the ground and that’s how they worked. Well I hate to ruin this simple view, but that’s not how they work. It’s a little more complicated than that. This post gives the simple explanation, and then the physics explanation.
Geothermal heat pumps use a pumping mechanism to absorb heat energy from under the ground and “pump” it into your house. The clever part is that due to a clever trick, they only use about one unit of electricity to “pump” about 4 units of heating into your house. Electric heaters use one unit of electricity to generate one unit of heating, so Geothermal Heat Pumps are 4 times more efficient. The downside is that they only work on lower temperature systems, meaning you really need to have underfloor heating to make use of them effectively.
First you must realise that there is energy in everything. Once it’s not at absolute zero, it’s got energy in it, thermal energy. Next you need to have a vague understanding of pressure. In a fluid the molecules are all flying around, vibrating, that sort of thing. If you heat them up, they vibrate more, and so the fluid expands. What’s really interesting here though is that it also works in reverse. If you compress a fluid, it tries to give out heat. Similarly if you let a fluid decompress, it will try to suck in heat from its surroundings. Basically what I’m saying is that by changing pressure, you can actually make a fluid give out, or suck in, thermal energy.
That’s the key to Heat pumps. They use a loop of fluid, which is allowed to expand in one place (under your lawn or somewhere like that). It then absorbs thermal energy from the surroundings. The fluid is then pumped into your house, where it is compressed, and so needs to give out that energy. The heat pump then transfers that heat to the heating system in your house and boom!
Thanks to daviddarling.info for the pic