From the Ground Up (or Down)
By Greg Whitchurch
This is a tale of two apparently parallel lives which, on one fateful day just north of New York City, collided, creating a tsunami of life-changing consequences for them, their neighbors, friends.– indeed, the whole countryside!
Player One is Becky Meier: longtime public servant teaching our young in a public school for decades; retiring to assist immigrants to our country; now working at a community college – all socially responsible positions.
Player Two is Kathy Hunnan: native of New Hampshire; B.S. Civil Engineering, M.S. Theoretical Computer Sci. from Stanford. She lands a job at Google X (“moonshot” projects, etc.) and while there helps create what turns out to be Dandelion, where she is CEO. And now she must find her first “customer.”
Back to Becky, who’s been bitten by the social protest bug. Without warning, interlopers have proposed a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline through her community! And she’s “not going to take it anymore.” So she and her partner, Bob, create StopNYPipeline.org/ for the fight. They win; the proposal is withdrawn. BUT, now she’s hooked on social action. So next they set up a local Renewable Energy Fair. Suddenly, Aztech Geothermal buys a booth!
The Day of the Energy Fair: Becky and Bob happen across Aztech’s booth. They’re awakened to the promise of geothermal! Becky invites them to speak to her anti-fracking group. Unbeknownst to Becky, Kathy has chosen Aztech as Dandelion’s installation partner.
The Day of the Presentation: John Ciovacco, Aztech’s President, just happens to bring along Dandelion! Kathy has cast her line. *SNAP!* Becky takes the bait – hook, line and sinker.
Pumping the sludge from prehistoric garbage (oil) out of the ground, transporting it all over the world, refining it, transporting it some more, and then using our breathing air to burn it (inefficiently, no less) to heat our buildings, and finally pumping the poisonous exhaust back out into our breathing air doesn’t make as much sense as just pulling the heat itself out of the ground. To address this problem, Alphabet X (Google) created a project, Dandelion, as a “moonshot” to design a specialized procedure to make geothermal heating and cooling affordable for everyone – residential and commercial, rich and poor.
As you probably already know, a heat pump (e.g. air conditioner, refrigerator) simply moves heat from one place to another; but keep in mind that it concentrates the heat during the process. The unwanted heat in your fridge is concentrated and moved outside the fridge into your kitchen, replacing it with very cold air. Likewise, with a geothermal heat pump, 50-degree heat from the ground is concentrated to a higher temperature in order to heat your house while the ground is, in turn, cooled down a bit.
Before Dandelion, geothermal installations cost tens of thousands of dollars because well-drilling tools were used, which are much larger, harder to transport and to move into place, and it takes far longer to drill than is necessary for a geothermal installation. Dandelion invented a small drilling rig for the smaller, shallower drill-hole needs of geothermal. This rig is far faster (one day of drilling vs. three to four days), easier to drill multiple holes, to transport, and to tuck into restricted places – saving a LOT of the typical costs while making it more widely available to folks with difficult sites. Horizontal layouts are also used.
At this early point in its development, DandelionEnergy.com exists only in upstate New York and works with a limited array of installation firms. As they fine-tune their business model they are looking for clients with existing ductwork – of the sort one finds in homes with oil or gas furnaces. Although they have millions of dollars worth of projects lined up already, they’re actively working on branching out to surrounding areas and states in the Northeast. You can sign up as a potential client on their website – perhaps bringing their attention to your own area. They’ll keep you apprised of their operations and offerings.
Those of you familiar with the structured financing used by SunCommon.com (solar PV) will recognize some of the features in Dandelion’s offering. One can pay cash or use bank finance for ownership of the system right up front; or utilize their “Zero Down, Savings Today” quasi-leasing model. This would mean that as a homeowner’s (or business owner’s) energy bills shed the fossil fuel heating portion altogether, a (perhaps much) smaller amount would be paid to Dandelion each month – half in Becky’s case! This amount would not vary like the price of fossil fuel does. At the end of the contracted leasing period the system belongs to the homeowner.
So, no fuel deliveries, storage, leaks, burner tune-ups, chimney worries, indoor fires or carbon monoxide, tank truck not getting up your drive, or bills landing on the kitchen table at inopportune times. And, the increase in electrical use can be offset by solar PV, which can also be scaled up to eliminate the rest of the electric bill. Keep in mind that the summer fans and window air-conditioners are gone, too. (Becky used to buy her electricity from renewable sources; now she’s buying about 40 panels at a local community solar farm to offset everything.) By the way, one can also add on hot water and fresh air filtering and circulation to this same system. And you can monitor the system, as well as your home, from over the Internet.
The village of Rhinebeck, NY has voted unanimously to give Dandelion right-of-way access to install geothermal piping along city streets at no upfront cost to anyone! Then homeowners can opt into the system, as folks now opt into water and gas mains. On February 9 Congress passed legislation to extend federal tax credits for commercial and residential geothermal installations through 2021. There are state and utility-based incentives as well.
[Note: this is a startup company; their offerings and procedures are undergoing fine-tuning right now. So expect some adjustments from the arrangements they made with Becky Meier as described in the videos and links provided here.]
View the online version of this article at www.greenenergytimes.org to see links for more information on this topic.
For decades Greg Whitchurch has heated his house, water, and food with cordwood in a masonry stove, a parlor stove, and a cookstove. Greg is a board member of Vermont Passive House and owns a LEAF, a Prius and a net-zero passive house with solar PV and hot water in Middlesex, Vermont. http://bit.ly/2nRCdGL (802)223-2416