Going Geothermal

Going Geothermal

Mark Elzinga held nothing back when he built his four-acre organic greenhouse at Elzinga & Hoeksema in Portage, Mich.

He spent money, took risks and entrusted a lot of people with the future of his operation–people like Stephen Hamstra, executive vice president at GMB, who helped design the solar-geothermal energy system that should provide 80 percent of Elzinga’s heating needs. The GMB-designed system should cut down on Elzinga’s energy costs, as well, and significantly reduce the greenhouse’s carbon footprint.

“The geothermal hybrid is a new thing,” Hamstra says. “I’m not aware of a greenhouse that’s done it like this. We presented the concept in 2006 in a white paper at the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) annual meeting in Albany, N.Y., and there was a lot of favorable response.” 

One Of A Kind

Elzinga was among the first to take notice, and he now has an impressive solar-geothermal system that includes 200 solar energy collectors, a 60,000-gallon insulated water tank and a heat exchanger that includes 26 miles of polypropylene tubing sunk in 200 wells that are each 300 feet deep.

The system uses Michigan’s year-round ground temperature to create hot water that’s stored in an above-ground tank and available for most of the greenhouse’s heating needs. In the summer, only a handful of heat is obviously needed in the building, yet available heat from the sun and air is abundant. So that excess heat is pumped into the ground and available to Elzinga the following winter.

Another part of the GMB design involves two air-handling units that sit outside the greenhouse.

“They’re basically fans and big radiator coils,” Hamstra says. “Each one moves 100,000 cubic feet of air per minute. If the air temperature (outside) is warmer than the soil temperature (underground) in the earth heat exchanger, we’ll turn on a pump and circulate cool water through those coils and blow warm air across the coils to also try to capture free solar energy and warm the soil.”

As reliable as Elzinga’s geothermal system is, the greenhouse can’t exclusively depend on heat from it year-round. Once cold temperatures arrive, high-efficiency boilers kick in to make up the difference that the heat pump cannot fill. And, if for some reason the geothermal system needs to be turned off, the boilers are capable of handling the heating load for the entire greenhouse. 

Greenhouse Rookies

Surprisingly, Elzinga is the first greenhouse GMB has ever served. The architectural and engineering company based in Holland, Mich., has mainly worked with the healthcare, corporate and education sectors. And, according to Hamstra, few of his peers have even thought much of having greenhouse growers as clients.

“It’s a huge market with a huge need, and the response is typically that the greenhouse market has been characterized by low-cost heating systems and that growers will put in the minimum to get by,” Hamstra says.

Elzinga’s vertical closed-loop system certainly bucks that trend, but the idea behind it is that the long-term benefits will eventually offset the costs upfront. Still, there’s more to geothermal heat systems in greenhouses than growers simply being open to invest in their futures now. Each greenhouse structure is unique, Hamstra says, and any system GMB installs is custom made.

At Elzinga, GMB was called on midway through the building process. But the earlier it could have been involved, the better, Hamstra says, because geothermal applications are functions of the greenhouse site.

If, for instance, GMB was involved with the Elzinga project at the start, it might have been able to put the bore field underneath the greenhouse itself. And that, among other applications, probably could have reduced the amount of area taken up by various parts of the system, too.

“We need some real estate to do this,” Hamstra says. “Talking to one grower who has a huge aquifer available and a big irrigation system with greenhouses and large open fields, a ground-water heat pump system is certainly a possibility. If you’ve got a good source of ground water, a good place to get rid of it after you’ve just pulled some heat out of it and no bacteria that will cause problems over time, it can work well.” 

Thinking Ahead

A geothermal system can also work well for a greenhouse, Hamstra says, if it collaborates with another building, particularly one that’s refrigerated. In a study conducted last year on a Meijer store in Michigan, GMB found that the store rejects nine times more heat each year than it needs.

Following the study, Hamstra did a computer simulation that gave the Meijer store a geothermal heat pump system, and he put the store side-by-side with Elzinga’s greenhouse. He then found that if Meijer’s waste heat was moved to the greenhouse, the size of Elzinga’s geothermal heat exchanger would drop in half in a virtual building simulation. He also concluded that the greenhouse could use that waste heat to significantly reduce the cost of operation while Meijer had a less-expensive way to lose its heat. “If you’ve got greenhouses that are next to some industrial process–plastic injection molding, even power plants–the waste stream from one industry could become the feedstock for the other industry,” Hamstra says.

As good as that scenario sounds, few growers are positioned right next door to buildings that can accommodate that amount of heat. But if growers are considering geothermal heat pumps for their greenhouses, Hamstra recommends that they consult engineers who’ve gone through the rigors of Certified GeoExchange Designer (CGD) training administered by IGSHPA. The investment is simply too much, he says, to rely on some run-of-the-mill heating company that’s conveniently located.

“I’ve heard reports, even in our area of West Michigan, of people who have applied geothermal pumps in greenhouses and the heat exchanger was way undersized,” Hamstra says. “They pulled the soil temperature down very quickly, and partway through the season it ceased to function.” If applied correctly, growers could see financial benefits for years to come. The benefits of such systems on the environment are big, too.

“Reducing our footprint by only moving energy instead of burning a fossil fuel to create heat is a significant one,” Hamstra says. “I think as an industry, growers have been looking for something to relieve them from these huge fuel bills.”

Leave a Reply

9 comments on “Going Geothermal

  1. i am in the business of building geothermal systems currently i have done one small green house system and works quite well my customer is very happy with it but i have mostly done residential i have the potential for much larger projects i would like to go after. there are many large growers in our area so maybe looking at partnering up with someone who has done larger project and expand our business

  2. I am new to greenhouses but I want a geothermal heating/cooling system for 4 greenhouses. Just wondering how much space is really needed only have about a half acre to spare, is it enough?

  3. I have a good thermal greenhouse question I have been pondering about. When constructing my first portable cold frame I only wanted the cold frame to be as tall as it needed to be for the plant heighth. I thought that the extra room would somehow be all the more space for cold air to hang out. Then I thought maybe it would also be a space where the heat collected during the day to be stored.
    So, my question is that is it advantageous to have extra unused room in a greenhouse to store heat captured during the day? The reason I ask is that I really want to make my next greenhouse a walk-in greenhouse but it doesn’t really “have” to be.

    Thanks,

    Jon

  4. I want to know your experience using underground geothermal water for city building.can you help me? if you help me, i am very thankful. And I wish you happy & health in the new year.

  5. i am in the business of building geothermal systems currently i have done one small green house system and works quite well my customer is very happy with it but i have mostly done residential i have the potential for much larger projects i would like to go after. there are many large growers in our area so maybe looking at partnering up with someone who has done larger project and expand our business

  6. I am new to greenhouses but I want a geothermal heating/cooling system for 4 greenhouses. Just wondering how much space is really needed only have about a half acre to spare, is it enough?

  7. I have a good thermal greenhouse question I have been pondering about. When constructing my first portable cold frame I only wanted the cold frame to be as tall as it needed to be for the plant heighth. I thought that the extra room would somehow be all the more space for cold air to hang out. Then I thought maybe it would also be a space where the heat collected during the day to be stored.
    So, my question is that is it advantageous to have extra unused room in a greenhouse to store heat captured during the day? The reason I ask is that I really want to make my next greenhouse a walk-in greenhouse but it doesn’t really “have” to be.

    Thanks,

    Jon

  8. I want to know your experience using underground geothermal water for city building.can you help me? if you help me, i am very thankful. And I wish you happy & health in the new year.

More From Structures & Equipment...

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New Markets

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More
Farwest2015

May 20, 2015

2015 Farwest Show Announces Second Annual Equipment Innovation Day

The second annual Equipment Innovation Day will be Tuesday, Aug. 25, prior to the 2015 Farwest show, which will be August 27-29 in Portland, Ore. Equipment Innovation Day, which was enthusiastically received in 2014, offers a real-time opportunity to see new heavy and automated nursery equipment in action. The demonstrations take place in manufacturing and nursery settings, adding value to the showcase. Attendees will be able to talk with participating manufacturers and learn first-hand from innovative growers who use the equipment in daily operations. The day-long event will be held at the main manufacturing plant of GK Machines, Inc., Donald, Ore. Further demonstrations of field equipment will take place at the nearby nursery of A&R Spada Farms, LLC. Bus travel to and from the event is planned, starting at and returning to the Oregon Convention Center. Attendees are welcome to provide their own travel to and from the site. Preregistration is required. The cost […]

Read More
Bee On Flower

May 20, 2015

White House Task Force Releases Pollinator Health Strategy

An interagency Pollinator Health Task Force commissioned by President Obama released its “Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators” on May 19. The strategy, released in accordance with the Presidential Memorandum issued last June, is accompanied by a Pollinator Research Action Plan, which outlines needs and priority actions to better understand pollinator losses and improve pollinator health. The recommended actions will be supported by a coordination of existing federal research efforts and accompanied by a request to Congress for additional resources to respond to losses in pollinator populations. Pages 47 through 52 specifically address pesticides and pollinators. The report calls out plant production, native plants, mosquito control and all urban uses in its Pollinator Action Plan. RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) says it supports the goals of improving pollinator health and habitat contained in the White House Pollinator Task Force’s release of its National […]

Read More
Latest Stories

May 22, 2015

Nexus Greenhouses Is Optimistic For Expansion Into New …

Cheryl Longtin and Mike Porter, who own Nexus Corporation, say they were excited to attend the grand opening of Gotham Greens’ new structure atop the new Whole Foods grocery store in the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., when it opened in December 2013. The project is just one example of some of the new and expanding markets that Nexus Corporation has expanded into over the past few years. Jeff Warschauer, vice president of sales for Nexus, says the company has enjoyed getting to know and working with the founders of Gotham Greens, Viraj Puri and Eric Haley, and Jennifer Nelkin Frymark, the chief agriculture officer, on their innovative approach to business. “They are very excited and work hard internally – just great people,” he says. “From our perspective, it’s great to see that excitement and vision. The employees there are happy and there’s no turnover; they’re only adding new people […]

Read More
Canadian Army Reserve training at GGS Structures.

April 30, 2015

GGS Structures Hosts Canadian Army Reserve Tactical Tra…

GGS Structures showed support for the Canadian military by opening up its fabric-covered Tasco Dome for tactical training to help soldiers prepare to fight in urban settings.

Read More
Growers are looking for low-cost options for temperature control, like circulating fans and exhaust fans.

April 10, 2015

New Ways To Give Growers Control Of The Greenhouse Envi…

From heating systems to circulation fans, manufacturing companies are finding new ways to help growers control the greenhouse environment, save on energy costs and streamline production.

Read More
Hendriks-Half-Open-Roof_GGS

March 26, 2015

10 Greenhouse Products For First-Rate Growing Environme…

From coverings to fork-lifts, greenhouse suppliers offer a variety of products to make growing easier. Check out the slideshow to learn more about these, plus several other products that can offer you value, versatility and durability.

Read More

March 16, 2015

Cozy Acres Greenhouses: Operating With Zero Emissions

With the help of federal funding, Cozy Acres Greenhouses was able to take a greener approach to its latest expansion, building a zero emissions greenhouse that operates year round.

Read More
interior view EDDG vent_energy efficiency codes

March 16, 2015

Stricter Energy Codes May Impact Your Ability To Expan…

Energy efficiency building codes that greenhouses are required to meet could soon be much more stringent, unless the National Greenhouse Manufacturers Association is successful in its bid to gain exceptions on greenhouse owners’ behalf.

Read More
NorthCreekGreenhouse_midmarch15

March 13, 2015

GGS Helps North Creek Nurseries Take Efficiency To A Ne…

North Creek Nurseries recently built a new GGS gutter connected poly greenhouse range with the intent of saving energy and implementing Lean Flow Practices. The aim was to help North Creek improve the quality of products and meet increased customer demand, while at the same time saving money on labor.

Read More
Polyarch Berns

March 12, 2015

Energy Audit Resources To Reduce Energy Costs In The Gr…

One way to reduce energy-related costs in the greenhouse is to conduct self-audits on a regular basis. These energy audits allow growers to identify potential savings by checking various production systems. To ensure your operation is running efficiently, check out these resources for help with your energy audit.

Read More
Retail Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

The Right Greenhouse For Any Grower

Selecting the right structure for your operation can be difficult. With so many options, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. The good news is that greenhouse manufacturers are experienced in the art of matching customers with the ideal product. Here’s their advice for how to pick your next structure.

Read More
Fall Creek Farm and Nursery Expansion

March 12, 2015

Conley’s Helps Fall Creek Farm And Nursery Increase Blu…

In order to meet its customer’s increasing demands for domestic blueberry production in the United States, Fall Creek Farm and Nursery needed much more indoor growing space. The company selected Conley’s for a recent expansion of Conley’s Gable Series 7500 in a two-phase project. The first 14-greenhouse range sold by distributor Horticulture Services, measures 170,000 square feet in size and finished construction in 2013.

Read More
Emerald Coast Grower's Atlas Greenhouse

March 12, 2015

Emerald Coast Growers Steps-Up Production Efficiency An…

Emerald Coast Growers, a supplier of perennial starter plants and ornamental grass liners, is not averse to expansion projects. In 2010, it celebrated its 20th anniversary with an expansion of its perennial production space. More recently, the company has been in a nearly continuous phase of construction and improvement projects.

Read More
ArmstrongGrowers Hanging Basket Area

March 12, 2015

Armstrong Growers And Pike Farms Grow With Sustainable …

Rebuilding and retrofitting greenhouses has been key to Armstrong Growers’ expansion on the West Coast, and Pike Farms will follow the same business model on the East Coast. The four-acre wholesale operation that is currently Pike Farms produces only about 5 percent at the most of Pike Nurseries’ retail garden center needs; however, that’s going to change in the next couple of years.

Read More
Metrolina Greenhouses Loading-Dock

March 12, 2015

Metrolina Greenhouses Expands With High- And Low-Tech …

Heralded as one of the most automated greenhouse operations in the U.S., Metrolina Greenhouses continues to build in Huntersville, N.C., and York, S.C. Art Van Wingerden, chief operating officer and co-owner of Metrolina Greenhouses, estimates that as his big box customers continue to grow at a 3 to 5 percent rate, so will Metrolina Greenhouses’ growing facilities to keep up with demand.

Read More
Polyarch Berns

March 12, 2015

The Energy Efficient Greenhouse

New coverings technology means today’s films, plastics, shade cloths and climate screens slash heating and cooling costs while improving crop productivity year round. We checked with manufacturers to see what’s new and uncovered some best practices for buttoning up your greenhouse. Here’s what you need to know about the latest trends.

Read More
FormFlex_MTZ Hanging Basket

March 11, 2015

4 New Ways To Automate Your Operation

These new automation products can help streamline labor-intensive tasks, saving time and labor and increasing productivity.

Read More
GrowCo_greenhouses

March 10, 2015

Greenhouses Are More Efficient For Marijuana Production

At least 30 percent more efficient and productive than warehouse growing, greenhouses are the way of the future for commercial cannabis production, experts say. Cannabis growers and advisors are starting to move production out of the warehouse and into the greenhouse, to benefit from the efficiencies that the sun’s natural light and environmental controls provide.

Read More
Pleasant View Gardens New Expansion

March 10, 2015

Pleasant View Gardens Transitions Old-School Hoop Hous…

A new production expansion optimizes labor efficiency and adds growing space, while optimizing energy use.

Read More
Outfitting Your Greenhouse

February 24, 2015

Save Energy With The Right Greenhouse Glazing

The glazing you choose can make a big difference in your energy bill and the uniformity of your crops.

Read More