Geoexchange heating and cooling was first introduced to Australia in 1992 though the Adelaide-based WaterFurnace Australia. To provide a more personal and unique way of reviewing this history, we asked one of the pioneers of the technology, Richard Metcalf, to provide his recollection of the past twenty years.
We first formed WaterFurnace Australia back in 1992. I was the Marketing Manager for the Electricity Trust of South Australia (ETSA) at the time and I was approached by Alistair Hutchison, a local mechanical engineer, about the WaterFurnace product. In fact, Alistair first approached me in 1989 and in conjunction with ETSA we installed three geoexchange installations. It was in 1992 that I left ETSA and we started WaterFurnace Australia. This was a very different concept at the time but I immediately caught what I refer to as ‘geothermalitis’ and developed a passion for the technology that stays with me to this day.
WaterFurnace Australia was originally half owned by WaterFurnace but quickly became a fully Australian owned company.
Our first installation was a residential home in suburban Adelaide. This was quickly followed by homes across Adelaide and surrounds and quickly into the ACT. In a similar way that the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association was an early supporter and promoter of the technology in North America, much of our early support came from the old regional electricity suppliers such as ETSA in South Australia and Great Southern Energy in southern NSW.
Commercial installations followed soon after, with the iconic system being the new Geoscience Australia (formerly Australian Geological Survey Organisation – AGSO) building in Canberra that was commissioned in 1996. Other major installations at the time included Lithgow Hospital, Macquarie University, Garden East Apartments in Adelaide and the Hobart Aquatic Centre.
Origin Energy (Boral at the time) started to express interest in the technology at this time and purchased the company and the rights to the WaterFurnace distribution in 1998. I stayed on as a consultant to them for several years.
Despite the promise of over 200 retail outlets and a commercial sales division, it was one of those unfortunate stories of a technology not quite fitting into an established corporate. The electrical efficiency product never seemed to quite fit within what was at the time a major gas company and some of the early drivers within Origin were promoted internally – away from the WaterFurnace business. The end result was a business division that seemed to float around and never took off in the way that was expected. This was never a reflection of the technology itself or a repeat of the electric car conspiracy, rather just a corporate mismatch.
WaterFurnace ended up revoking the license to Origin and I was approached to manage their local distribution again. I fulfilled this role until 2005 when we were first approached by GeoExchange Australia and they became the driving force behind the technology.
Although officially semi-retired, my role now is to manage the service and spare parts of the business and to provide advice to both GeoExchange Australia and GAIN, their dealer network, on an as required basis. I also keep my hands dirty with one or two local installations each year for family and friends.
I enjoy seeing the way that the technology is now becoming more main stream as we always felt that we were before our time with respect to full acceptance and uptake of the technology. Now is definitely the right time for the technology.
Richard can be contacted through the GeoExchange Australia office if anyone would like to discuss further with him anything about the past, present or future of geoexchange systems.