Manitoba is the geothermal capital of Canada, installing the energy-saving heating and cooling systems at nearly three times the national per capita average, according to the manager of the province's geothermal program.
"We're leaders in adoption rates and have been for a while," Robert Walger said in a recent interview. "We're out-punching our weight by more than a factor of three."
Geothermal systems take heat from the ground -- below the frost line, where the temperature remains relatively constant -- and carry it through a network of pipes to heat a building. The process can also be reversed to cool the building. While geothermal systems are more expensive to install than conventional heating and cooling systems, they pay for themselves through energy savings in about eight years.
According to the Department of Innovation, Energy and Mines, which oversees the province's geothermal program, more than 11,000 geothermal-pump units have been installed to date in Manitoba.
Walger said homeowners in southwestern Manitoba were the first to adopt the technology in a meaningful way in the early 1990s. But now the systems are being installed in almost every type of building imaginable, including private homes, apartment and condominium complexes, schools, retail shopping centres, office buildings and industrial plants.
"Hutterite colonies are also great adopters of geothermal," he added.
Walger has several theories for why Manitoba builders and developers are adopting geothermal technology at a faster pace than many of their provincial counterparts.
Manitobans have a reputation for being very value-conscious, "and I think it (the savings that can be achieved) speaks to their sense of value," he said.
"We're also very attuned to managing our expenses, and heating is a major expense," he added, noting Manitoba also has some of the most energy-efficient homes in the country.
One of the latest commercial developments to join the geothermal party in Manitoba is the Stanley Business Centre, located off Highway 3 between Winkler and Morden. All three office buildings in the $10-million centre, which celebrated its official opening last week, are heated and cooled simultaneously by a central, or district, geothermal system.
Walger said although there are other office buildings in the province that are heated and cooled by a geothermal system -- Manitoba Hydro's downtown corporate headquarters is one of the better-known examples -- the Stanley Business Centre is the first where a central system has been used to heat and cool more than one office building at the same time.
"It (sharing a central system) is more difficult to do because it takes a lot of co-operation," Walger said. "But the upside is that... it allows them to achieve greater efficiencies and therefore greater savings."
How much greater? Walger said the operating costs are about half what they would have been if they'd installed a separate system for each building.
Reducing operating expenses was one of the reasons the centre's three tenants -- the Rural Municipality of Stanley, the corporate headquarters of Access Credit and BDO Canada -- opted for a geothermal system rather than a conventional solution. But it wasn't the main reason.
"It was very important for us to go with a green solution. We didn't want to use conventional fossil fuels," said the project's manager, Hank Hildebrand. "And it was a collective decision between all three entities."
He said the business centre was built with the help of a $76,000 provincial grant issued under the Manitoba Geothermal Energy Incentive Program, and $74,000 in provincial Green Energy Equipment Tax Credits.
The province says more than 1,000 homes and businesses have received more than $3 million in grants and tax credits since the incentive program was launched in 2009.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail or industrial real estate sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.