Feasibility study of ground coupled heat pump systems for small office building types in Phoenix, Arizona

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The need for alternative energy efficient building heating and cooling technologies has given rise to the development and widespread use of Ground Coupled Heat Pump (GCHP) systems. This dissertation looks

The need for alternative energy efficient building heating and cooling technologies has given rise to the development and widespread use of Ground Coupled Heat Pump (GCHP) systems. This dissertation looks at the feasibility of using GCHP systems as a viable economic alternative to traditional air source cooling systems (ASHP) for conditioning buildings in the hot, semi-arid climate of Phoenix, Arizona. Despite high initial costs, GCHPs are gaining a foothold in northern climates where heating dominates, in large part due to government incentives. However, due to issues associated with low ground heat exchanger (GHE) efficiency and thermally-induced soil deformations, GCHPs are typically not considered a viable option in hot climates with deep groundwater and low permeability soil. To evaluate the energy performance and technical feasibility of GCHPs in Phoenix, the DOE 5,500 sq.ft small office, commercial building prototype was simulated in EnergyPlus to determine the cooling and heating loads. Next, a commercial software program, Ground Loop Design (GLD), was used to design and simulate the annual energy performance of both vertical (V-GCHPs) and horizontal GCHPs (H-GCHPs). Life cycle costs (LCC) were evaluated using realistic market costs both under dry, as well as fully saturated soil conditions (meant as an upper performance limit achievable by ground modification techniques). This analysis included performing several sensitivity analyses and also investigating the effect of financial rebates. The range of annual energy savings from the GCHP system for space cooling and heating was around 38-40% compared to ASHPs for dry soil. Saturated soil condition significantly affects the length of the GHE. For V-GCHPs, there was about 26% decrease in the length of GHE, thereby reducing the initial cost by 18-19% and decreasing the payback period by 24-25%. Likewise, for H-GCHPs, the length of GHE was reduced by 25% resulting in 22% and 39-42 % reduction in the initial cost and payback period respectively. With federal incentives, H-GCHPs under saturated soil conditions have the least LCC and a good payback periods of 2.3-4.7 years. V-GCHPs systems were been found to have payback periods of over 25 years, making them unfeasible for Phoenix, AZ, for the type of building investigated.