Subterra Renewables – Why Heating Is a Hot Topic

President Matthew Tokarik discusses how Subterra Renewables can reduce emissions with their geothermal heating and cooling systems, as well as the potential long-term benefits for developers and homeowners.

Subterra Renewables specialises in geothermal heating and cooling systems for multi-residential and commercial buildings. These systems exchange heat with the earth below the building to create a thermal storage battery. “We offer end to end design and installation, as well as an ‘Energy as a Service’ utility program where we invest in the renewable energy asset to remove the barrier of initial capital investment” President Matthew Tokarik explains.

“There is an emerging climate emergency directly related to the burning of fossil fuels. We aim to remove combustion in buildings and replace it with geothermal heating and cooling which creates a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions” he states.

Counting the cost

In recent times, rising energy costs have been a concern, both for homeowners and developers involved in the construction industry. In Canada, local regulations and a national carbon tax have propelled the need for more energy-efficient heating and cooling methods in pursuit of Canada’s carbon reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. “Geothermal heating and cooling can provide massive energy savings; it is four times more efficient than heating with fossil fuels. At the moment, carbon pollution is taxed at $50 per ton in Canada and that is set to go up by $15 per year until it reaches $170 in 2030. Other countries around the world are bringing in similar rules and legislation. Removing heating by fossil fuels in a building will cut the carbon tax cost as well as hedge against the rising cost of natural gas” Tokarik says.

Tokarik is also keen to stress the long term importance for early-adopting developers. “By adopting geothermal heating and cooling, developers are also futureproofing their building. Geothermal  systems are to the construction industry what electric vehicles are to the transportation sector; the future of heating and cooling systems and the leading technology in future carbon emission reductions. There are also benefits in terms of space savings which becomes very important when considering the trends of future immigration and population in our growing urban centres. The mechanical equipment required on the roof is minimized so there is space for other amenities.” Tokarik emphasises.

Mass adoption

One challenge that Tokarik feels that Subterra Renewables needs to address is market awareness and education, “Our biggest challenge is to get people comfortable with the technology and construction process. These systems have been around for decades, so they are nothing new, but the market has still not hit the point of mass adoption, and many builders still favour cheap and conventional fossil-fuel based designs” he explains.

Subterra addresses their clients’ hesitancy through education and consultation. “We want to show people what the technology looks and feels like. This means talking to clients’ designers and consultants, taking clients to existing buildings and construction sites, and showing them drawings,” Tokarik states.

Thankfully Tokarik is seeing a shift in the market that could open up more opportunities. “In Canada, there is a political drive to build green. For example in Toronto, 50 to 60 per cent of carbon emissions are attributed to the building sector, primarily from space heating. Planners and policy makers are smart and know this has to be addressed if they want to hit their net-zero goals by 2050” he says.

Tokarik has an idea of how net-zero targets could be achieved. “A combination of rewards and enforcement will help the industry to adopt change. At the moment, some developers are rooted in the past, where anything new is seen as scary or risky, and at the moment the stick seems to be more effective than the carrot” Tokarik explains.

Company culture

When it comes to hiring Tokarik feels that it is important for the team to embrace Subterra Renewable’s culture. “We pride ourselves on how we communicate with the client. Clients will often compliment us on our transparent, open communication and this is a quality we look for when hiring,” Tokarik states.

“Another important virtue is autonomy. Whether someone is drilling, installing or working on financial analysis, we want them to take ownership and own the work they do on a day-to-day basis” Tokarik continues.

Tokarik himself had a cultural shift when joining Subterra Renewables. “Before Subterra, I was an engineering consultant working in the building energy industry. I would make a report or recommendation to encourage sustainable practices and owners would say ‘We appreciate the effort but we do not have the money to implement it’” Tokarik recalls “but now I am able to make a direct impact on green infrastructure investment” he adds.

The company culture also extends to Subterra Renewables’ involvement in the local community. “We recently made a large donation to a local women’s shelter and held a massive toy drive so that the children staying there had toys over Christmas. We give back to the industry through our involvement in the local trade colleges and education boards. We are also part of the Ontario Geothermal Association, whose role is to educate the market and encourage best practices” Tokarik outlines.

Tokarik believes that now is the perfect time for clients to embrace an increasing desire for sustainability. “In terms of the future, we are looking at a high growth trajectory. We started working in southwest Ontario but we aim to grow rapidly, expanding throughout North America. We feel the market is shifting and there is more social, political, and consumer drive for sustainability.”

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