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Could you quickly explain how geothermal energy works, and where it is particularly useful?

Geothermal heating and cooling is done by using a heat pump to move heat between the ground and a home or building. The term ‘heat pump’ may be unfamiliar, but heat pumps are actually ubiquitous in modern life: refrigerators are heat pumps, as are air conditioners. Both refrigerators and air conditioners use electricity to move heat from one place to another: in this case, from the inside (of the fridge or building) to the outside.

Geothermal heat pumps are similar, but instead of only moving heat in one direction, they are bidirectional. This allows them to both heat buildings and cool them. And instead of moving heat from the building to the outside air, like an air conditioner does, they move heat between the building and the ground.

This matters because heating your home is most urgent and essential when it’s very cold out, which is precisely when there is the least amount of heat in the outside air. And cooling your home is most urgent and essential when it’s very hot out, exactly when it would be most difficult to reject heat from your home into the outside air. This is why air conditioners are so difficult for the electricity grid: they operate least efficiently exactly when everyone uses them most, on the hottest days of the year.

Geothermal heat pumps sidestep this problem by exchanging heat with the ground instead of the outside air. The ground maintains a mild temperature year round (which is the average air temperature over the course of the year in that location). Because of this, even on the hottest or coldest days, geothermal is still extremely efficient and effective.

Geothermal heating and cooling tends to work best in places where it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer. This is because these climates require a lot of heating and cooling, and it’s in these places that geothermal has the most advantage over air source heat pumps, which exchange heat with the air outside (air source heat pumps are essentially air conditioners that can run in reverse to do both heating and cooling.)

Dandelion geothermal

You have a cost example between oil, natural gas, and propane on your page, s0 how do you think these costs are going to develop the next 5 years?

In the Wall Street Journal last week there was an article about options traders betting on a return to $100 oil. I can’t predict oil prices over the next five years, but oil prices have been relatively low since I co-founded Dandelion in 2017, so I bet oil prices are more likely to rise over the next five years than they are to fall. In terms of how geothermal costs are going to develop in the next 5 years, I think 10% lower YOY is a good estimate.

What different forms of geothermal are there, since we see geothermal in the context of residential housing as well as in big commercial plants? 

Geothermal can refer to harnessing energy from the earth’s core, the type Iceland is famous for, but this is not what Dandelion’s geothermal heat pumps do. The heat that geothermal heat pumps collect from the relatively shallow surface is actually stored sunlight, not energy from the earth’s core, so despite the name ‘geothermal,’ geothermal heat pumps are actually using stored solar energy.

Dandelion geothermal

How did you learn about the potential of geothermal, and what convinced you to co-found the company?

I learned about the potential of geothermal heating and cooling from a colleague at Google, Bob Wyman (I started Dandelion as a project at Alphabet’s X before spinning it out as a startup). He made a compelling case that widespread geothermal heating and cooling was the most important climate intervention we could take in the US, but that, despite that, geothermal heat pumps were getting approximately no attention.

It was an audacious claim, but he had detailed data and logic backing it up, so his argument captivated me and motivated me to learn more.

That interest developed into co-founding Dandelion when I became convinced that, 1) Geothermal heat pumps have a critical role to play in offsetting carbon emissions from buildings; 2) They align the customer’s financial interests with society’s best interests; 3) The market potential is gigantic; and 4) The barriers that have prevented geothermal heating and cooling from scaling in the past are addressable.

Is there a certain story behind the name Dandelion?

Dandelions have a taproot that can grow as deep as ten feet into the ground. Even if you cut the flower off at the surface, the taproot can regenerate a new one. Similarly, geothermal ground loops extend far into the ground and they last for as long as the home itself. So after 20 years, when it’s time for the homeowner to replace their heat pump, they can just swap it out with another one and connect it with those same ground loops.

There is something very satisfying about the fact that each time we install ground loops in a yard, that home will have access to geothermal heating and cooling forever. Or at least, as long as that home exists.

If you look back to the investment the company received, did the investment landscape and interest in geothermal change visibly in the last few years?

The investment landscape for clean tech has changed dramatically since I co-founded Dandelion in 2017. In 2017, very few investors and even fewer mainstream VC investors were interested in clean tech. Now it seems like there is widespread interest. This makes sense to me because investors have seen that clean tech companies like Tesla can offer massive returns, and the political and business trends suggest clean tech will be a huge part of the future.

Could our readers get out and buy geothermal right away, and in which states (if we’re talking about the US) would it make the most sense (on average)?

Geothermal makes the most financial sense for homeowners who are paying a lot for heating and cooling today. Typically, these are homeowners in cold climate states, especially those using heating fuels like fuel oil or propane.

Some states and utilities also offer generous incentives for geothermal heating, such as NY, CT, MA, SC, and VT, among others.

Most readers will likely be able to find a company that can install geothermal heating and cooling in their area, but the cost may be high. Dandelion exists because we see a need to make geothermal heat pumps more affordable and the process of getting them easier for homeowners, and we look forward to being able to extend that work to more and more places over time (today Dandelion works in NY, CT, and VT).

What is your main competition, and how is Dandelion different?

Our primary competition today is inertia, which is to say conventional heating and cooling options. When it’s time for homeowners to replace their furnace or boiler, many homeowners seek the recommendation of their contractor, who is likely going to recommend the products and brands he or she is most familiar with (typically furnaces and boilers).

Our challenge is to raise awareness of geothermal heating and cooling. We’re different from other geothermal heating and cooling providers because we do residential retrofit at scale. This has let us leverage the fact that we’re serving hundreds of homeowners in a given area to get all of our homeowners better pricing on their equipment and the installation. We’ve also focused on streamlining the customer experience to make the experience of getting geothermal simple and straightforward.

If you could found the company over again, what things would you do differently today?

So many things! Hard to overstate how many things! But here are a few:

  1. I would have looked for mentorship even earlier. I was incredibly fortunate to get connected with Dan Yates, the cofounder and CEO of Opower, about a year into the company, and he had a transformative impact on Dandelion and on me as a leader. If I could have learned even a fraction of what he taught me sooner, I would have saved myself and others a lot of stress during those early years!
  2. I wouldn’t have assumed partners, subcontractors, or anyone else except Dandelion would solve the problems we needed to solve to make the business work. When I started the company, we had a model that assumed local HVAC contractors would sell and install geothermal for customers on behalf of Dandelion. It didn’t take us very long to realize that given these activities were so central to our mission of making geothermal heating simple and affordable, we couldn’t outsource them to others.
  3. I would have been less tolerant of underperformers. I think this is a hard lesson for many new managers, but at the beginning of Dandelion when I was still relatively new to managing a team, I spent an outsized portion of my time and energy dealing with the most difficult employees. With many hard lessons behind me now, I invest the bulk of my time with the highest performing employees, because they are the ones that will build the business and carry us furthest toward our mission.

What other cleantech and general development do you find particularly interesting or fascinating? What would you love to get involved in more but don’t have the time?

I’m an advisor to a startup called Noon that’s inventing a way to use cheap, abundant materials to store a lot of energy at a very low cost. While clean tech history is littered with battery failures, I find Noon exceptionally compelling because it’s one of those bets that could change everything if it works.

If you could suggest a particular law (cleantech or otherwise), what would you suggest?

An extension of the Investment Tax Credit for at least a decade at 30%. This would go such a long way in allowing critical clean technologies like geothermal heat pumps to scale.

Are there some companies you’d really like to work with, but haven’t quite gotten through to yet? Maybe some employees or shareholders are reading this and can reach out! 🙂

We are working with quite a few utility companies across NY, CT, and now VT to offer geothermal incentives for homeowners to transition from furnaces and boilers to heat pumps. These programs have been very successful: they’re good for utility companies because homeowners who use geothermal will typically use more electricity, especially on off-peak times, like night and winter. Geothermal heat pumps also dramatically reduce summer peaks. It’s good for homeowners because it makes geothermal heating and cooling more affordable. We are always looking for additional utility companies to work with, to make geothermal heating and cooling available in more states.

Are you hopeful for humanity, and what would need to happen to make you more hopeful?

I am very hopeful. We have very real challenges to solve, but for the average person, life on this planet has never been better than it is right now. Life expectancy has increased more since 1900 than it had in the preceding 8000 years, and the quality of our lives has astronomically improved with electricity, refrigeration, antibiotics, sanitation, genetically modified crops, the internet, and so many other world-changing innovations that are only a hundred or so years old.

I think it’s likely humanity will continue its pattern of successfully innovating our way out of our biggest challenges.

All images courtesy Dandelion


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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here’s what it means

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The US just made a big decision about Chinese solar – here's what it means

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) has determined that four out of eight Chinese solar companies that it’s been investigating are “attempting to bypass US duties by doing minor processing in one of the Southeast Asian countries before shipping to the United States.” Here’s what it means for the US solar industry.

The DOC found that the four Chinese companies that attempted to circumvent US duties by processing in Southeast Asia are:

  • BYD Hong Kong, in Cambodia
  • Canadian Solar, in Thailand
  • Trina, in Thailand
  • Vina Solar, in Vietnam

The DOC findings are preliminary, and the agency will conduct in-person audits in the coming months. The DOC also noted that a ban is not going to be implemented on products from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam:

Companies in these countries will be permitted to certify that they are not circumventing the [antidumping duty (AD) and countervailing duty (CVD) orders], in which case the circumvention findings will not apply. 

The DOC also notes:

Further, some companies in Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam did not respond to Commerce’s request for information in this investigation, and consistent with longstanding practice, will be found to be circumventing.

As Electrek reported in mid-May, the DOC launched an investigation of whether Southeast Asian solar cell manufacturers are using parts made in China that would normally be subject to a tariff.

That investigation destabilized the US solar industry, which relies on solar module imports to meet growing demand. The majority of the US solar industry then asserted that the DOC investigation would harm the US solar industry and wanted the investigation dismissed.

On June 6, President Joe Biden waived tariffs for 24 months on solar panels made in Southeast Asia in response to the investigation. He also invoked the Defense Production Act to spur on US solar panel and other clean energy manufacturing. That way, domestic production could be sped up without interfering in the DOC investigation.

The DOC today asserted that Biden’s presidential proclamation provides US solar importers with “sufficient time to adjust supply chains and ensure that sourcing isn’t occurring from companies found to be violating US law.”

But Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), didn’t see it that way. She said in a statement:

The only good news here is that Commerce didn’t target all imports from the subject countries. Nonetheless, this decision will strand billions of dollars’ worth of American clean energy investments and result in the significant loss of good-paying, American, clean energy jobs. While President Biden was wise to provide a two-year window before the tariff implementation, that window is quickly closing, and two years is simply not enough time to establish manufacturing supply chains that will meet US solar demand.

This is a mistake we will have to deal with for the next several years.

George Hershman, CEO of SOLV Energy, the US’s largest utility-scale solar installer, also wasn’t pleased about the DOC’s announcement. He said in an emailed statement:

After years of supply chain challenges and trade disruptions, I remain concerned that the Commerce Department chose a path that could jeopardize the solar industry’s ability to hire more workers and construct the clean energy projects needed to meet our country’s climate goals.

The upside is that Commerce took a nuanced approach to exempt a number of manufacturers rather than issuing a blanket ban of all products from the targeted countries. While it’s positive that companies will be able to access some of the crucial materials we need to deploy clean energy, it’s still true that this ruling will further constrict a challenged supply chain and undercut our ability to fulfill the promise of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Photo: Tom Fisk on Pexels.com


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Hyundai showcases ‘sustainable high performance’ EV tech in IONIQ5 N teaser video

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Hyundai showcases 'sustainable high performance' EV tech in IONIQ5 N teaser video

Hyundai checked all the boxes with its award-winning IONIQ5, its first dedicated electric vehicle. The bold, futuristic-looking EV has earned high praise thus far with long-range capabilities, advanced features, and a smooth ride.

However, after teasing the IONIQ5 N in a new video, Hyundai has confirmed its race-inspired N-line will enter the new era of electric vehicles. Giving a new meaning to sustainable high performance.

What is sustainable high performance? In the simplest form, it’s high-performance electric vehicles that produce zero emissions.

However, Hyundai is spinning that by developing zero-emission EVs that can achieve high performance for prolonged periods (sustainable).

Hyundai’s N-line was born in 2012 by a hand-picked team of “elite research” staff members. The company’s high-performance line began attracting several higher-ups from BMW and Mercedes-Benz AMG.

The Hyundai N-line represents “three N DNA pillars,” including:

  1. Corner Rascal: driving enthusiasts must be able to handle corners, hence the “N.”
  2. Race Track Capability: Hyundai’s N-line vehicles must be “performance ready” at all times.
  3. Everyday Sports Car: N models are built not only to crush the racetrack but also for everyday driving situations.

The South Korean automaker will build upon these principles as it transitions to an electric future, giving us a glimpse into what that could look like with the Hyundai IONIQ5 N.

Hyundai IONIQ5 N is the future of sustainable high performance

The new video reveals how Hyundai is using its rolling lab, or what the company calls its “playground,” to bridge its motorsports DNA directly into its N-line models.

Hyundai-IONIQ5-N
Hyundai RN22e Source: Hyundai

Hyundai began the RN22e project with a mission of setting a new stand in electrified high performance. The RN22e (which looks like an aggressive IONIQ6) is based on Hyundai’s E-GMP, which the IONIQ5 and IONIQ6 ride on, but includes several new features allowing it to live up to the “N” name.

One of Hyundai’s newest technologies is called the “E-TVTC,” which is:

A faster reacting torque vectoring technology that matches the instant torque of an EV, fending off the understeer.

Hyundai’s RN22e is the first four-wheel drive rolling lab. Dual motors sit at the front and rear axles, allowing precise power distribution.

To control battery heat (which can reduce performance), Hyundai is focusing on finding the perfect balance between aerodynamic efficiency and cooling. And for high-performance fans that like the “thrust” and sounds an EV does not typically feature, Hyundai is adding N Sound and N e-shift.

The automaker says it’s ready for the era of electrification with the IONIQ5 N, which will likely share the technology. Hyundai gives us a sneak peek into what the IONIQ5 N will look like, wrapped in camouflage at the very end alongside the RN22e and N Vision 74 (a hydrogen hybrid vehicle).

Although Hyundai doesn’t release specific powertrain specs, it’s likely to match the new Kia EV GT, with 577 hp and 0 to 62 in 3.5 seconds. You can watch the full video here.

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This county is the first on the US East Coast to ban natural gas

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This county is the first on the US East Coast to ban natural gas

Montgomery County, Maryland, will be the US East Coast’s first county to ban natural gas in new buildings.

Montgomery County will require all new construction to only use electric energy equipment. Montgomery County, which is just north of Washington, DC, has a population of just over 1 million, so this is an impactful decision for the region.

That means specifically that all new buildings in the county will need to go electric for heating, hot water heating, and cooking from the end of 2026. However, income-restricted housing and schools will have until the end of 2027.

The Montgomery County Council backed the gas limits with a 9-0 vote, and the county executive is expected to sign off on Bill 13-22, “Comprehensive Building Decarbonization.”

About half of the county’s emissions come from buildings, so environmental groups welcomed the decision. Mike Tidwell, director of climate change public policy advocate group CCAN Action Fund, said about Bill 13-22 on November 17:

Our safety and health will benefit from a move to all-electric buildings, and we will be doing our part to address climate change.

Unsurprisingly, the natural gas industry isn’t as enthusiastic. E&E News reports:

Representatives from Washington Gas Light Co., which distributes gas to over a million customers in Montgomery County and the Washington area, said the ban focused on electrification “while dismissing other proven opportunities for decarbonization,” like mixing hydrogen into the natural gas system.

“We urge the Council to consider a more holistic approach to decarbonization, one that puts affordability, reliability, resiliency, and security at the forefront,” wrote the company in a July 26 filing to the County Council.

Electrification brings higher upfront costs to developers but lower operating costs in the long run.

Only two West Coast states, California and Washington, have banned the sale of all new natural gas-fired heaters and water heaters by 2030.

To date, no East Coast state has passed a natural gas ban. Massachusetts has a program that allows up to 10 cities to enact a natural gas ban, and New York State is considering one.

Read more: The largest electric school bus fleet in the US just launched in Maryland

Photo: Pixabay on Pexels.com


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