HeatSpring TV is a video podcast where we interview leaders in the geothermal and solar industry to keep up to date with what is happening on the front lines. We focus our interviews on policy, new product innovations, new business model innovations, and other significant industry news.

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Keeping Vermont on the Cutting Edge of Clean Energy and How You Can Get Involved

Vermont has long been on the cutting edge of renewable energy and energy efficiency. They like to get stuff done, from solar permitting to efficiency and biomass. Two weeks ago, I spoke with executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, Gabrielle Stebbins to learn a little more about the current state of the industry, and where private companies can get involved to help further develop the industry.

What would you say is the current state of the renewable energy industry in Vermont?

Vermonters strongly support renewables and a clean energy economy, as exemplified in many of the “firsts” led by the state: the first efficiency utility, the first legislated Feed-in-Tariff, the first solar registration (as opposed to permitting) process for solar projects 10 kW and below, and a net-metering program that has continually evolved and improved over the years.

With all this good news from Vermont, it must be stated that Vermont is small, and therefore when federal policies and subsidies and incentives are decreased for renewables, the funding opportunities for Vermont to move forward more quickly, become constrained.

What policies are driving clean energy adoption in the state?

See above. Feed in Tariff, net-metering, strong cow-power program, majority of utilities supportive of renewables, strong public support, Comprehensive Energy Plan with goal of 90% of ALL energy being supplied by renewables by 2050, solar registration process, etc.

What technologies are leading and which ones are lagging? Why

Solar pv and wind have been leading. wind now has some challenges due to the PTC uncertainty and that impacting larger, national industry growth that trickles into Vermont. Bioenergy technologies vary widely. Many homes are heated with cord wood – so in a way Vermont has always been at the forefront of biomass if one considers cord wood. Pellets are becoming more widely available and there is growing interest. Solar hot water also has strong market interest. Biofuels are used by many farmers on-farm, but has not taken off. Farm methane has been supported for many years through state policy and a Vermont public interest in supporting our farmers. Geothermal varies– there are many installations, but generally the industry has not come together as a unified force and therefore market growth has not been as advanced as wind and solar. Retrofitting existing hydro has been a slow, long process due to the extensive FERC permitting – a new law passed this year that allows for a pilot program of a few projects going through state review PRIOR to FERC review, may help to identify good opportunities for retrofits at sites that environmental regulators and project proponents can work together on to generate power. So this could become a new opportunity for many towns that own old dams, etc., depending on the location along the river system and ecological impacts, the state of the dam and how much rebuilding is required, and the cost-benefits of the project.

The 2012 year we witnessed a lot of legal developments in Vermont assisting renewable energy

2012 Legislative Results: Thank you to all the REV members that weighed in and got involved this Legislative Session. Countless members (and associated businesses) testified, provided data analysis and policy support, wrote to and called their Elected Officials, helped fund the Legislative effort and finally, attended bill signings, REV’s press conference and REV’s “day at the Statehouse”.  All of these efforts really did (and does) make a difference.  The following bills have been signed into law, or should be in the next few days:

House Bill 475: The net-metering bill raises the solar net metering registration capacity from 5 kW to 10 kW, addresses several technical fixes with regards to net-metering, and also defines solar Standard Offer projects based on inverter capacity. Click here to read this bill.

House Bill 468/ Senate Bill 214: The Renewable Portfolio Standard and Standard Offer Bill became S. 214, a bill that no longer includes an RPS, but does increase the Standard Offer Program to a total of 127.5 MW over the next 10 years. It includes several studies, including a report regarding how to move Vermont towards comprehensive energy planning via a Total Energy Standard (includes thermal, transportation and power mandates). The bill also sets a new policy directive to utilize distributed generation as a means to address transmission and distribution constraints, and peak load issues. Click here to read this bill.

House Bill 782:  This tax bill should ensure the Clean Energy Development Fund receives approximately $3 million/year through a generation tax on Vermont Yankee.  Estimated availability is Fall 2012, which does not necessarily prevent a funding gap that may occur prior to Yankee’s payment in 2013.  It will also require that the renewable energy community and REV go to the bat annually to ensure this funding is appropriated from the General Fund to the CEDF, as opposed to other competing needs.

House Bill 679: This tax bill ensures all solar projects 10 kW and smaller are tax exempt, for solar projects larger than 10 kW it requires a $4/kW annual state property tax, and brings wind projects 1 – 5 MW in size into the same tax rate as projects wind projects 5 MW and larger. Click here to read this bill.

Senate Bill 148: A hydro bill that allows for preliminary reviews regarding retrofitting existing hydro sites, without going through an expensive FERC process first. Click here to read this bill.

Senate Bill 237: The Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont is now tasked with developing a genuine progress indicator (GPI) to be used by the state of Vermont along with the state’s gross domestic product when assessing the overall economic health of the state.  A GPI broadens the GDP economic analysis to include not just economic impact, but also environmental and social impacts resulting from economic activity. This is important because it means our economic analyses may start to include the upsides of clean energy – a cleaner environment, better air and water quality and resulting human health impacts, etc. Click here to read this bill.

Are there any specific pieces of legislation that are lacking, that you’re pushing for in Vermont? How, specifically, can private companies help push this legislation forward?

Ideally, we need to move towards a place where an increase in electricity generated by renewables is part of the energy plan. Our buildings need to be made as efficient as possible, making it more easily feasible for renewables to heat them, and to enable electric vehicles to move into Vermont and address the challenges that our rural state face – with a considerable amount of oil and money spent on transportation.

The RPS did not pass this year, but this allows for the opportunity that in a next round, we have a Total Energy Standard – one that addresses heating/cooling, transportation and power needs.



If you do business in Vermont, there’s a number of things you can do to help develop the renewable energy industry in Vermont.

  1. Keep up to date and help with legislative action. Right now there is nothing press because the Vermont legislature is not in session, but this is the best place to keep up to date with –> http://www.revermont.org/main/about-us/policy-and-advocacy/
  2. Join Renewable Energy Vermont –> http://www.revermont.org/main/join-rev/
  3. Attend REV’s yearly conference: http://www.revermont.org/main/events/conferences/
  4.  Join the Friends of Vermont Wind at www.windworksvt.org . This group can write letters to the editor, get facts from the wind worksite website about how wind energy works, etc. Ideally, REV hopes to develop a large enough group of players that we can give the people who support wind energy (more than 70% in VT) enough support so that they will speak up at public meetings when others are shouting against wind energy….but that will take time to develop.
  5. Subscribe to the newsletter. If you you want to watch what is happening an get involved at a later date, the newsletter is the best way to keep in touch http://www.revermont.org/main/join-rev/


Posted in Clean Energy Policu, HS TV, Noteworthy News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bringing Solar PV Investment (and Returns) to the Masses with @Solarmosaic

I’ve heard this pitch about 68 times, so I’m glad someone is finally executing on it. Here’s the idea, allowing regular people to invest in solar PV projects.

I heard about Solar Mosaic a few months ago when I friend send me a link on the interwebs. After I released a course about solar leases, someone retweeted it to his friend, who happened to be Steve Richmond, the co-founder of Solar Mosiac. I liked the concept, but, at the time they were offering no monetary return for their investment, and structured it more like a donation. Investors didn’t loose money, they would get it back, but wouldn’t make any extra.

Now, the company is hoping to give returns to individuals investors and people can invest with as little as $25. So, I had to get more information.

I spoke with Lisa Curtis, the community director at Solar Mosiac about their new program

Here’s a few highlights of our conversation

  • Their new model is building an online marketplace for individuals to invest in profitable solar PV projects. It’s a way to turn solar into a real asset class
  • The key is their model has been proven. They’ve been operating for a year and installed over 5 rooftop solar power plants and they rasied over $350k for the projects
  • Their plan is to work with established EPC contractors that have a good track record, but that aren’t large enough to get access to cheap capital from big banks, and provide them capital with the Solar Mosaic platform.
  • Normal individuals will be able to invest as little as $25



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Posted in Financing, HS TV, Solar Photovoltaics | Leave a comment

How to Decrease Geothermal Drilling Costs by 50%, Seriously

I’m always in the search for great technologies or business innovations that are making renewable energy more badass, and by badass, I mean profitable. Whether it’s AC modules, faster solar racking, or PV modules that don’t require racking or grounding, huge projects that are pushing an industry to the next level, cheaper ways of pumping water. However, if you notice from the above list, I’d argue the majority of innovation is happening in the solar PV industry with the occasions solar thermal or geothermal innovation.

The reason for this is simple, solar thermal and geothermal are close to mature technologies, while the solar PV industry is still in it’s infancy. The installed cost of geothermal is being driven down by local competition and rising energy costs, but there is some technology innovation still helping to drive costs down.

Kelix is a great example of the type of technology innovation the geothermal industry needs. The Kelix GHE transfers heat more efficiently than a typical HPDE U bend pipe used in a vertical closed loop system.  It does this by reducing the borehole resistance, which means you can reduce loop lengths by up to 50%.

Last week, I spoke with Matt Schaefer, their VP of Sales and Marketing about the Kelix system and what our industry needs to start doing to take over the world.

Here’s what stuck out to me from our conversation. 

  • The Kelix system can deliver 1 to 1.5 tons of heating/cooling capacity per 100 feet of bore. This is up to twice as much as normal polypipe.
  • If your drilling costs are above $10 per foot you should consider the Kelix system because it could be cheaper to install.
  • The technology is great in space constrained environments because you need less bore feet. In residential applications, it’s common to drill for a 3 to 4 ton unit in one 300ft borehole, and even more in deeper wells.
  • The pressure drop per foot in the Kelix system is actually LOWER than with utubes, even though the Kelix system has much greater turbulence.   This means it often requires less mechanical pumping force for the fluid.
  • Geothermal doesn’t make sense for every building.   From a sales perspective, we need to become much more specific about who our customers are and the messaging that we’re delivering to them.
  • We should spend more time working on increasing the demand for geothermal from consumers, rather than assuming that if we educate the design community that they will spec in geothermal. Here’s how I took this message: we need to take control of our own destiny.

Watch the whole interview here

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Posted in Geothermal and Solar Design and Installation Tips, Geothermal Heat Pumps, HS TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Forget Small Potatoes, We need to Introduce Geo to 1,000,000 Homes

This map of geothermal installations and testimonials on geothermalgenius.org. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen something like this for the geothermal industry and it’s something we need to be doing more of. Why? It adds VISIBILITY to a technology that is otherwise hidden.

I wanted to speak with the folks that created this map so I reached out. Josh Kresge followed up with me and said they started the site with an epiphany that most in the geothermal industry tend to have, which was “this technology is so amazing, why doesn’t everyone have it”

They quickly realized that the main issues in the industry is customer awareness so their solution was creative marketing to bring awareness and introduce geothermal to the masses. Their goal is to make geothermal simple, and to show the public the technology works, and it’s not a science experiment.

Full Agenda

Question: Whats the quick pitch for geothermal genius.org?

  • Answer:
  • We don’t claim to be the genius on geothermal, but the concept is that geothermal itself is genius.
  • We’re a public awareness group and we’re working on introducing 1,000,000 people to geothermal every year and doing that through creative marketing
  • We’re able to take a small marketing budget and reach a large number of people
  • We see our main objective is to increase public awareness.

Q: It’s interesting you note that public awareness if a major issue because I’m beginning to feel like this IS the issue and that technical competence is not holding us back anymore. Also, I like your 1 million mark because it gets the industry to start thinking larger. We know it’s an amazing technology, why are we still going after small potatoes? From your work, what do you think is the main thing the industry needs to do to start selling huge projects and getting our messaging correct?

  • Answer:
  • The industry as a whole has not been able to come together and unite around the public awareness issue.
  • Everyone is doing their own marketing in their own local areas
  • I gave a talk at IGSHPA and compared geothermal to the milk industry with the “got milk” campaign where the milk industry created a consortium to make the campaign happen. The message was milk vs the rest of the drinks.
  • I see the geothermal industry facing the same issue. It is geothermal VS the rest of the heating and cooling methods.
  • Right now, the issue is being attached by geothermal brand vs geothermal brand.
  • We’re less then 1% market share, we don’t need to be competing against each other but instead simply introducing geothermal and the concept to everyone.
  • We have been able to reach 1 million people, with no market budget so it’s possible.
  • There should be a united effort and this will make a larger impact.
Posted in Geothermal Heat Pumps, HS TV | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Can We Eliminate Residential Solar Financing? A Conversation About Driving Down PV Costs with Barry Cinnamon from Westinghouse Solar

This is a great thought experiment. Can we make solar PV so simple and cheap that we’ll no longer need residential solar financing? Jigar Shah thinks so. Shouldn’t the goal of the PV industry be to NOT need financing? Or, are there technology constraints that will make financing always needed? Like for automobile market. This is a thought that came up in a recent conversation I had with Barry Cinnamon, the CEO of Westinghouse Solar.

Last April, I wrote a post titled “Will Home Depot Kill the Residential Solar Market?” that was first published in cleantechies and then picked up by Reuters. Home Depots goal was to use their massive supply chain bring solar to the masses and reduce installed costs. The article unpacked some fears that solar professionals were having about big box stores entering the solar supply chain and if that would have a large impact on the solar market. The article dug into industry specifics around pricing, permitting, incentives, and comparisons to other trades to determine if contractors would favor the move and also discussed the implications of major brands backing solar. I published the post a little less then 11 months ago and since then all my assumptions have been correct. I havent’ spoke to a single contractors that does business directly with Home Depot to supply their equipment. I think the reason is simple, the technology requires support. It’s still too complicated and a large majority of companies are not comfortable enough with it to buy it from a big box store when no technical support.

Last week, Barry Cinnamon from Westinghouse Solar reached out to me bring up the article and say he felt the reason Home Depot has not helped the solar industry much. I responded to Barry for 3 reasons. First, he wasn’t a PR person. Sorry PR friends :) Second, he brought up a good point, the solar being sold through Home Depot was too complicated. Third, it was too expensive. So, I decided to do an interview with Barry to get his perspective about technology and business model innovations within solar that are using common sense to make solar cheaper and easier.

Here are the highlights from our discussion. 

  • After talking with Barry about their continued efforts to simplify solar, I realized an interesting point. Isn’t the goal of the solar PV industry to be to not NEED solar financiers? Like Solyndra. Reduce the costs of solar so much that most homeowners will not need financing.
  • Westinghouse’s best customers are completely new to solar. They’ll never need to learn string sizing, temperature coefficients, and residential solar will become extremely simple.
  • Barry said that AC modules are seeing a 50% direct labor reduction compared to industry norms. They’re seeing around 6 to 7 man hours per kW on residential installations compared with the industry average 10 to 11 hours per kW
Posted in HS TV, Solar Photovoltaics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

How to Select a Top Solar Manufacturer To Work With

For the fourth part of my interview series with BrightGrid Renewable Energy Finace, I spoke with Tim Slavin, VP of Credit and Operations at BrightGrid. We talked about a solar installer should be asking from their manufacturing partners and how solar installers should select a partner to work with.

The BrightGrid series is for residential solar contractors that are looking to use a solar lease to build their business. We created the series because solar leases are becoming the market norm and are key to selling mass market clients on solar. You can watch the full BrightGrid and HeatSpring series here. If you’d just like to watch an individual interview, here they are:

Here are a few highlights from our discussion.

  • The solar market is not just about product anymore, but solutions. Solutions like financing programs for client, financing for equipment sales support. Look for manufactures that can be complimentary to your business and not just sell you product.

Here’s the full agenda of what we talked about

  • Q – If you’re new to the solar business, what role are manufacturers and distributors playing?
  • Q – How is their role changing and how is it different then distributors and the supply chain in the traditional trades?
  • Q – What do you think the reason is for the solar supply chain changing so rapidly? Why are manufacturers moving from just selling product to other services?
  • Q – With that being said, I’m a new solar company and want to offer a lease. What are the top 3 questions I should ask when selecting a distributor or manufacturing partner to work with?
  • A – Tim’s short answer:
  • 1 – Do they have training? Both sales and technical. Are they giving you a tool box of marketing material and saying good luck, or are they backing it up?
  • 2 – Do they help you in the field helping you to close sales. Lead generation and creating proposals is great, but you need to close deals.
  • 3 – What is the “point of sale” experience like for you, the installer, and for the client. Is it easy to use and understand? What are the online capabilities? Can you use a mobile device to close a sale, approve credit, provide online documentation, all on site?
  • Q – What do you tend to find is the most common mistakes installers make when selecting a partner?
  • A – Tim’s short answer:
  • 1 – If I offer it (the solar lease), they will come and buy it. This is simply not true.
  • 2 – The other common mistake is that a lease and cash sale are the same and you can sell the two inter-changeably.

If you are a solar installer and have more questions, or would like to work with BrightGrid, you can more information about their residential financing product here.

You can watch the full BrightGrid and HeatSpring series here.

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HS TV Ep. 10 Solar Hot Water Doesn’t Need R+D, IT NEEDS Promotion

In the 2012 January/February issue of Solar Today, Bob Ramlow was featured discussing his story and his thoughts on the future of the solar thermal industry. Bob entered the solar industry 40 years ago, designing and installing solar hot water systems and distributing solar PV and wind equipment. When asked about his thoughts on what the solar hot water industry needs, Bob was blunt “we don’t need research and development, we need promotion.”

If you’re new to the solar industry, go to the Solar 101 Reading list. It has free tools and articles on solar design and installation, sales and marketing, policy, finance and best practices.

I agree with Bob and so does the data. According to a recent SEPA report, solar hot water is economical at today’s prices for 16% of US households in 72 electric utility areas. Solar hot water is economical today if, and here’s the huge if, you focus on the right customers in the right markets. It is NOT economical for everyone. Every customer is not a perfect fit, the application must be right. This isn’t new, it’s the same for solar PV, wind or geothermal. The best solar hot water markets are the Northeast due to high energy costs and low inlet water temperature, and the Southwest due to the large solar resources.

I reached out to Bob because I wanted to get some more color behind his Solar Today article.

Here are the highlights from our discussion: 

  • Bob recommended to contractors to focus on new construction, if you can. It’s cheaper to install and it will be bundled into the mortgage, making it profitable for the homeowner from day 1.
  • Focus on areas with high fuel prices. Basically, everywhere with no natural gas.

Here’s what we talked about:

  • Do you ever think SHW will become mainstream?
  • What do you think is critical for SHW adoption?
  • What is the role of renewable energy portfolio standards in the adoption of solar PV and how has that left SHW behind?
  • People’s perceptions need to change about economics. People spend money on things that don’t have any return all the time.
  • You brought up two great points about SHW industry growth. The first is policy. The second was focusing on the correct time when the project is being sold because if its bundled with a mortgage its a no-brainer. What is your advice for contractors to get involved with local policy and for getting customers at the right time?
  • Between 7 and 9 million water heaters are changed every year. Why do you think manufacturers are NOT trying to cross sell solar hot water? It would drastically increase the size of an otherwise small water heater project. Given that 9% of US households are changing their water heaters every year, it seems obvious this would be a large opportunity. Why aren’t more people focusing on this?
  • SEPA just put out a report about 3rd party SHW financing. It brings up an interesting point. The technology works and is economical, but for some reason businesses aren’t flocking to it like PV or geothermal. Do you think this will change? Do you think if financing comes online it will bring growth?
  • What are you really excited about in SHW, what do you think is going well?


Posted in HS TV, Solar Thermal | Leave a comment

HS TV Ep 9: How to Attract Top Talent or Find a Job in the Renewable Energy Industry

Here is something I did not know. It has been as difficult for renewable energy companies to find amazing talent, as it has been for professionals to find a job in the renewable energy industry.

Last week, I had an enlightening conversation with Karen Biscoe of Green Search Partner about her experience recruiting in the renewable energy industry in New England. Karen is the first recruiter I’ve ever spoken with and she has an amazing perspective on the industry because she has an inside view of companies that are growing rapidly and looking for talent. She knows what companies are struggling with, why they’re hiring, what skills they are looking for, what mistakes rapidly growing companies tend to make and what they’re good at. The insights she has on a company’s hiring process also puts her in the perfect position to advise professionals looking to get into the industry. She knows what technologies are hot, skills are required and what makes candidates stand out.

If you’re a company that would like to speak with Karen about recruiting, or a professional looking for a new challenge, you can reach her at 781 523 1906 or karen@greensearchpartner.com.

Here are the highlights from our conversation

  •  When you meet someone you really like, act quickly. The job market is picking up and talent doesn’t wait.
  • Just because companies are not posting jobs, doesn’t mean they’re not hiring. Some don’t want to deal with hundreds of resumes.
  • The balance of technology knowledge and job specific skills mix will largely depend on the company in question and what stage they are in. There is not rule.
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HS TV Ep. 7: “Geothermal Will Give you Better Returns than the Stock Market”

One of our goals in 2012 is to explore what can be done to make geothermal a mainstream technology.

To get some more insights into what we need to do as an industry, I had a conversion with Harold, the founder and CEO of 360Chestnut.

The discussion is around 20 minutes, here is what we talked about:

  • What 360 Chestnut is doing around educating homeowners about geothermal.
  • Why Harold loves his geothermal system more then his kids (sometimes).
  • How and why Harold decided to get into the geothermal industry.
  • What are your thoughts on installing geothermal versus upgrading the shell of a building?
  • What is the story of 360 Chestnut? Why was it created and what specifically are you working on within the geothermal industry?
  • Why every home should be at least consider geothermal.
  • Do you think 360 Chestnut is more of a ‘geothermal missionary’, someone who is converting non-believers, or are you preaching to the choir, are you looking to find the people that already want geothermal?
  • What do you see as the main problems with geothermal industry going mainstream?
  • How does the fragmented geothermal industry, both in manufactures and installers, make it difficult for the industry to market itself to homeowners?
  • Why should a contractor work with 360 Chestnut instead of creating their own site that attracts homeowners? Why would a homeowner go to your site first, instead of companies that are actually doing the installations?
Posted in Geothermal Heat Pumps, HS TV | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Lessons Learned from Selling a Solar Company to SunEdison

Now that hard installation costs are dropping rapidly in the solar pv industry, everyone’s looking at how to decrease soft costs.

Across the board support for decreasing solar’s soft costs is the result of how well organized the industry is becoming. State governments, the DOE, and private software companies are all working to help.

Note: Download A Free Chapter from Keith’s Book Solar Success Principles, or take his “Best Practices in Solar Sales and Marketing”, or apply for the “Solar Executive MBA” course that Keith is teaching.

Cost reduction and the commoditization of project financing are two keys to building profitable companies and an industry. However, when the costs fall, financial barriers are eliminated, and policy bottlenecks are lifted, the company that has the advantage will be the one that is uber-efficient on the operations side. Companies with marketing and sales engines will have the upper hand. We can already see the early adopters of this strategy in the growth of strongly branded residential and commercial companies: Sungenvity, SolarCity, and SunRun, just to name a few.

There is one lesson for small and medium-sized solar companies going head to head with these huge solar companies: To compete in the residential or commercial solar space, you need to become extremely efficient with your operations. Both with you marketing and sales and more specifically, your overlap with operations.

For this reason, I spoke with Keith Cronin from Sun Hedge. Keith is based on Hawaii and built and sold his solar integration company to SunEdison. Now Keith consults with solar integrators and works as a consultant to companies who are looking to develop large solar projects in Hawaii.

We had a great discussion that lasted almost 45 minutes, here’s what we talked about.

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Posted in HS TV, Solar and Geothermal Sales and Marketing Tips, Solar Photovoltaics | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments