Australand's Fairwater estate has fast tracked demand for geothermal

GeoAir director Paul Costello is on a roll that he didn’t quite expect, it seems. In recent months, since the news got out that the new geothermal technology his company has refined can save a small fortune on installation and power costs, he’s been inundated with enquiries.

As first flagged first by The Fifth Estate on 1 July, Sekisui House and Australand are among the high profile companies that have seen the potential of the technology, and clearly they’ve given confidence to others to follow suit.

In the past three months Costello has hired 20 people to cope with extra demand, bringing the total staff to around 80, and he expects another 30 to join in the next four to five months. In the meantime, he’s been forced to send people interstate to meet demand.

Even more interesting is that this is yet another company in the building and construction industry, along with the prefabrication sector, that is stoking capacity in manufacturing as the automotive industry fades away.

GeoAir is now struggling to keep up with demand while at the same time trying to build capacity itself, an enterprise not without risk.

Geothermal heating has been around for many decades, Costello says, but his company has refined the concept so it’s cheaper to install. Basically it combines a particular refrigerant in geothermal loops that need to be inserted far less deeply than conventional geothermal systems.

Among its current workload is the geothermal system the company has installed for every house at Australand’s Fairwater estate at Blacktown in Western Sydney.

“Now we’ve had a call from Blacktown Council wanting to see if this could heat their swimming pool,” Costello says.

“All of a sudden we’re getting people saying they don’t want to be left behind.”

There’s been enquiry from builders and developers, including from Western Australia, an Aussie Rules club in Melbourne, as well as from companies wanting to represent the product, he says.

“Over time we need to allocate plant and equipment and machinery to different states and we need to employ several more people in a range of disciplines. Currently work is being done in NSW and we’re sending people from Queensland down there to do it.”

Some home grown manufacturers will benefit as well.

“All the geo loops we’ve been manufacturing have been to a certain quantity but now we need a specialised group to quadruple that amount,” Costello says.

Heat pumps were imported from the US but the company will now seek a local manufacturer to fill demand.

“We need a specialised grout mix that was coming from Brisbane but the quantities we need now will be huge.”

The company’s ground engineering skills also means it can undercut competitors who need to outsource that part of the work.

“We do this every day. We’ve got vast experience and it’s second nature to us.

“The above ground operation is standard ducted heat and heat pumps.”

Costello says that continually skyrocketing electricity prices only adds to the interest from potential consumers.

Aged care homes that need to run heating and cooling 24/7 would find “enormous savings”, he says.

The company, established by Phil Gray as a ground engineering firm, has been running since 2006 and it’s now that it’s investment in research and development over four or five years is paying off.

It’s specialised in drilling rigs and anchoring for wind farms, “many of them” through NSW and South Australia, Costello says.

By way of cost comparison he says a typical ducted airconditioning system might cost $12,000 for a medium-sized house. If the outside temperature is, say, 38 or 40 degrees, you probably want to cool it to 23 or 24 degrees and in a standard system that would cost quite a bit in power bills to get there.

But with the Earth’s temperature a stead 27-28 degrees you only need to cool the temperature by a few degrees to get the desired levels. So that’s a saving in power bills.

Combined with solar power, the potential is huge, Costello says.

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