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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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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

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IEA downgrades oil demand growth forecast as prices heat up on elevated Middle East tensions

An oil pumpjack is shown near the Callon Petroleum vicinity on March 27, 2024 in Monahans, Texas. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

The International Energy Agency on Friday downgraded its forecast for 2024 oil demand growth, citing “exceptionally weak” OECD deliveries, a largely complete post-Covid-19 rebound and an expanding electric vehicle fleet.

In its latest monthly oil market report, the IEA said it had revised down its 2024 oil demand growth forecast by around 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.2 million bpd.

The global energy watchdog said that it expected the pace of expansion to decelerate even further to 1.1 million bpd next year “as the post-Covid 19 rebound has run its course.”

The IEA’s report comes amid a rebound in oil prices on elevated Middle East tensions, with energy market participants closely monitoring the prospect of supply disruptions from the oil-producing region.

Iran, which is a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, has vowed to retaliate after it accused Israel of bombing its embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus earlier this month.

The attack has ratcheted up tensions in a region already grappling with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack.

International benchmark Brent crude futures with June delivery traded 0.8% higher at $90.45 per barrel on Friday at 9:30 a.m. in London, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures with May delivery rose nearly 1% to trade at $85.84 per barrel.

“We’re seeing the surge in [electric vehicle] sales, especially in China and also in Europe, really taking into gasoline demand, but also in the United States,” Toril Bosoni, head of oil industry and markets division at the IEA, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Friday.

“There has been a lot of talk about sales not increasing as much as maybe was expected, but EV sales and increased fuel efficiencies in the car fleet is lowering gasoline demand, at least in advanced economies and particularly in China.”

Asked about some of the main concerns relating to oil supply security, Bosoni replied, “We are watching, obviously, the Middle East very closely. The continued tanker attacks in the Red Sea is of key concern, but also escalating tensions between Iran and Israel, and then we’re seeing tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue, with attacks on Russian refineries.”

“So, there are several tension points in the oil market today that we’re watching very closely that could have major impacts … if there would be any significant outages,” she added.

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid’s insane power

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Tesla unveils new Sport Seats to absorb Model S Plaid's insane power

Tesla has unveiled new Sport Seats for the Model S Plaid to absorb the electric supercar’s insane power better.

While it’s in the form of a family sedan, the Model S Plaid could easily pass as an electric supercar with its 1.99-second 0 to 60 mph acceleration.

That’s more power than anyone would need, but it is fun.

Some Model S Plaid owners even like to take the fun to the racetrack. When cornering, you can really feel the Gs on the racetrack.

Tesla’s Model S seats are comfortable, but they are not designed for super-spirited driving, which the rest of the vehicle enables.

Today, Tesla decided to address the issue with the release of new Sports Seats:

They obviously feature much more pronounced side support. Here are the main features of the seats:

  • Increased lateral support
  • Modular seat architecture for comfort & support, plus same 12-way power adjust, heating & ventilation
  • High performance suede for increased grip & reduced weight

Here’s another look at the new seats:

The seats are now standard for the $90,000 Model S Plaid and included on all cars built since the beginning of the month.

Electrek’s Take

We had known new sports seats were coming to the new Model 3 Performance, which is expected to be unveiled any day, but it makes sense that the Model S Plaid would get them first.

The vehicle’s level of performance deserves sports seats.

I am surprised that Tesla is making it standard rather than a paid option, but we’ll take it.

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Daily EV Recap: China looks to export EVs by the hundreds of thousands

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Listen to a recap of the top stories of the day from Electrek. Quick Charge is now available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyTuneIn and our RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players.

New episodes of Quick Charge are recorded Monday through Thursday and again on Saturday. Subscribe to our podcast in Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast player to guarantee new episodes are delivered as soon as they’re available.

Stories we discuss in this episode (with links):

Formula E again delays debut of 600kW mid-race charging

This lamppost EV charger just went commercial in the US

Tesla releases more details on Powerwall 3, confirms cheaper stack coming

Electric cars are saving Americans billions — even people who don’t drive them

China is exporting so many EVs that it needs more ships – a lot more

Listen & Subscribe:

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Drop us a line at tips@electrek.co. You can also rate us in Apple Podcasts or recommend us in Overcast to help more people discover the show! 

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You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.

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