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Subterra, Turnkey combine to create STS Geothermal

Subterra Renewables and Turnkey Site Solutions have joined forces to launch STS Geothermal, creat...

IMAGE: STS Geothermal will be able to offer both drilling and shoring services for builders or building owners who want to install geothermal systems. (Courtesy STS Geothermal)

STS Geothermal will be able to offer both drilling and shoring services for builders or building owners who want to install geothermal systems. (Courtesy STS Geothermal)

Subterra Renewables and Turnkey Site Solutions have joined forces to launch STS Geothermal, creating what they call Canada’s first full-service geothermal drilling and shoring service.

The timing couldn’t be better for companies positioning themselves within the green energy and sustainability sector, with the federal government committing billions in supporting funds as part of its plan to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subterra has worked on projects across Ontario, helping developers reduce costs while meeting energy and carbon reduction goals by using their geothermal energy systems. The technology taps into thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth to create a heat source for the building.

Turnkey has the largest fleet of drilling rigs in the Province of Ontario and has completed over 300 jobs to date.

Toronto-based Turnkey Site Solutions, which was founded eight years ago, will handle the drilling and site management to install Subterra’s geothermal technology in homes and buildings across Canada.

“I looked at what we’ve been doing with investing in builders to become more of a green supplier, and one of the big weaknesses was that there are very, very few drillers in Ontario,” said Lucie Andlauer, the CEO of Subterra Renewables.

STS Geothermal’s business model

The most suitable markets for a firm like STS are cities where there is constant development of high-rise buildings, such as Toronto, New York or Vancouver. After facing early challenges trying to break into the market in these cities in a large-scale manner, Andlauer decided she needs to control the whole supply-chain process. Securing drilling capability would be key, given the steep price tag involved.

“The clients were very skeptical of going geo because they didn’t have a commitment to drilling,” she said. “So it was an easy decision to take this over, we can do all the drilling and we control the outcome.”

The process of shoring involves securing soil by creating a foundation of cement to ensure it is stable enough for construction to commence. At that point, the company could begin the drilling phase.

Through boreholes, which involve drilling down 650 to 800 feet, the drills tap into thermal energy generated and stored in the Earth, which is then used to help heat buildings.

The new company will have a fleet of over 30 drills and equipment to do shoring and drilling at the same time. A typical high-rise that would take 30 months to build would normally set aside six weeks for shoring, then another eight weeks for drilling.

Andlauer said STS Geothermal can get both of these processes accomplished simultaneously, in about six weeks.

“No up-front financial risk” for owners

The company also offers what it calls a no-risk financial model for a builder/developer.

“We are streamlining the process, there is no up-front financial risk and on top of that, we’re saving everyone time which helps reduce costs and create savings overall,” she said.

STS Geothermal would finance and carry out the entire process, then would own the heating supply thereafter. Thus, building owners would pay a fixed monthly fee to the company for heating, cooling, and hot water.

Over the past three years, Subterra’s geothermal system has reduced approximately 1,320 tonnes of greenhouse gases, the equivalent of 260 homes. However, Andlauer admits that is only a small start compared to what could be accomplished. During the next two years, she anticipates that number will increase a hundred-fold.

“We need to change this climate,” she said. “The only way we can get people to help us change the climate is by doing something about it. And that’s why we got into the financing model because they’re basically taking zero risk, and helping the planet.”

Substantial potential growth

The financial potential for the geothermal industry is enormous, Andlauer said. She cited the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, which commits Canada to a net-zero-energy-ready model building code by 2030.

“We see a $50 million growth just for us this year. The new rules by 2040, all new buildings will need to have some sort of green energy, and that’s geothermal – so it’s a billion-dollar industry,” she said.

While competition is sparse right now, Andlauer anticipates it’s only a matter of time until big energy players like Enbridge, Suncor and others wade into geothermal drilling.

With the potential for massive future growth on the horizon, Andlauer is preparing for one other major need: expertise. She said one of her next steps will be to invest in a trade-school program to train more geothermal bore drillers.

“I think our next step will be to open up a school, basically a trade school, where we actually train in-house drillers to keep the employment going,” she said.

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