Geothermal heat pumps and the direct utilization of geothermal resources represent a fast-growing alternative in the heating and cooling market. As demand for electricity expands throughout the world and energy prices increase, the direct use of geothermal, led primarily by heat pumps, is on the rise. An efficient and reliable option for residential, commercial, and institutional building owners, geothermal heat pumps exploit the nearly constant temperatures found just beneath the ground. While cost and lack of consumer awareness remain primary obstacles to increased adoption, tax incentives and policies supporting building efficiency improvements are helping to drive dramatic growth in the heat pump market.
While heat pump potential is high, installations currently represent just 1% of the heating and cooling market. Other direct use technology growth is more moderate and in some cases negative, which results in heat pumps occupying a rapidly expanding proportion of direct use deployments throughout the world. Today, at least 78 countries utilize geothermal direct use applications, with geothermal heat pumps representing roughly 50% of the direct use market. Led by the United States, China, and Sweden, direct use capacity reached 51GWt in 2010, representing 438,073 TJ/year in thermal energy used. Through 2017, Pike Research projects that 90% of added direct use capacity will come from heat pump installations, led primarily by select EU markets, China, and the United States.