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Success Begets Success: Why Your Trip to Ball State’s GeoCon is a Great Investment in the Future of Your Business

GeoCon Banner.001

I’m not a fisherman, but I have plenty of stories about the one that got away.  Big, fantastic opportunities don’t come along frequently, so they tend to catch us off guard.  Ball State is the one that didn’t get away.  3,600 bore holes, $88 million spent, 8% ROI, 2,300 new jobs created, $2 million reduction in annual energy costs: this is the whopper we – the high performance building industry – caught.  It’s the single biggest success story in the history of the U.S. geothermal industry, and I believe the secrets to industry growth can be uncovered by dissecting how this project came to be.

On November 7th Ball State University is hosting it’s first Geothermal Conclave (GeoCon) – a one-day conference and trade show for anyone interested in high performance buildings.  This is a free event that includes lunch, networking, educational sessions and a tour of the largest geothermal heat pump installation in the United States.  We at HeatSpring are proud to be partnering with Ball State to make this event a success.

Click here to register or learn more about GeoCon.

Here are six reasons why you need to attend GeoCon this year:

  1. It’s the professional equivalent to visiting the Grand Canyon.  Can you really call it a life well-lived if you haven’t seen this thing with your own eyes?
  2. Ball State is recruiting other universities and academics to attend – can you imagine if a college near you decided to do the same thing?  Ball State has explicitly said this is a goal of theirs.  This is your chance to be a part of those conversations from the earliest stages.
  3. You’ll make new, potentially valuable, business contacts.  Since this is a new event it’s going to pull a diverse group of folks together who may not already know each other.  That’s an exciting and potent formula for finding new opportunities.
  4. We’re using education technology to make the event even more interesting.  We’re donating the use of our Cammpus training software to make this more of a ‘blended learning’ opportunity.  You’ll be able to start learning about the Ball State system and chatting with other attendees online before you ever set foot on campus.
  5. The focus is on big systems, not residential.  Sometimes selling residential systems feels like herding cats – I find it refreshing to talk about how to sell IKEA and Ball State on geothermal.  It’s harder, but has such a massive impact on the industry when it happens.
  6. We’ll be there discussing the future of the industry, not the past.  Almost all of the young geothermal professionals I know are anxious about their future in the industry.  They want to do work they love, but also need to make a living.  That’s going to be the focus of several breakout events, including the session on geothermal design led by IGSHPA author Ryan Carda.

Success begets success.  I’m excited for this opportunity to learn more about one of the best things that ever happened to the high performance building industry and to support Ball State’s effort to spread the word about what’s possible.  Joining me in that costs you zero dollars.  I hope to see you there.

To register or learn more about GeoCon click here

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The #1 Most Useful Person to Know in the Geothermal Industry

Ryan Carda bet me that South Dakota State would beat Michigan in the NCAA basketball tournament this year.  He lost.  Ryan’s not a great gambler, but you know what he is great at?  Everything related to geothermal heating and cooling.  In fact, I believe he’s the single most useful person you could ever know in the industry.  Here’s why:

  • He knows the technical stuff inside and out.  If the fact that he wrote the new IGSHPA Design & Installation manual isn’t proof enough, here’s a short lesson from his Certified GeoExchange Designer (CGD) course:

  • He’s an amazing teacher.  In fact, he’s the highest rated instructor we’ve ever had teaching a class on any topic at HeatSpring.  Averages 9.8 out of 10 on his student ratings.  His most popular course is the Geothermal Designer Boot Camp.
  • He’s young and hungry, so you can actually talk to him.  I know a lot of smart people who never return my phone calls.  Look at that picture again – does he look intimidating?  Ryan’s number and email address are on his website and I’ve never heard of anybody having trouble getting in touch.
  • He’s well connected.  Ryan studied under the legendary Chuck Remund, and has gotten to know a ton of people through various lines of business.  He wrote some amazing geothermal design software, sells grout, supports thermal conductivity testing, and teaches all over the country.  This winter he was in Korea supporting some huge geothermal projects.  When I want to find the right person to talk to on a project, I always start with Ryan because he saves me time.

If you’re headed to Vegas, Ryan Carda can’t help you.  If you’re new to the geothermal industry or looking for an experienced partner to work with on a project, I can’t give a stronger recommendation that Ryan is your best bet to start with.  At the end of the day, an ‘industry’ is just a big group of people, and it’s useful to know the best.

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Why Ross Beyeler’s ‘Website Optimization for Solar Companies’ is Guaranteed to Be Awesome

I’d like to introduce the renewable energy industry to my friend, Ross Beyeler.  Since you don’t know Ross, you can’t fully appreciate how awesome his upcoming course, ‘Website Optimization for Solar Companies’ is going to be.  Allow me to make the introduction:

Ross Beyeler is founder and CEO of Growth Spark, a design and development agency with a focus on conversion-optimized web and mobile properties. Since its founding in December 2008, Growth Spark has completed over 200 projects and led Ross to a 2010 nomination as one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Entrepreneurs under 25. Before Growth Spark, Ross co-founded For Art’s Sake Media, Inc., a technology company servicing the art industry, which he led through its seed funding and its first product launch.

Ross is younger than I am, but he teaches me something every time we get together.  His employees are cool and I never doubt whether he has the latest information or thinking on websites or marketing.  If I had to boil it down to four things, this is why his course will be great:

  1. Ross is a singular talent.  He’d be good at anything he does – he’s just one of those guys.  It just so happens that he’s chosen to learn as much as he can about website optimization and building websites for companies.
  2. He’s used to working for clients in even more competitive industries.  Almost every great insight I’ve made to improve our business has been learned from someone outside the industry.
  3. Ross is incredibly honest and open.  To me, this is the most important thing I look for in a friend, colleague, and certainly a teacher.  He’ll give you an honest answer to your questions about your website and your marketing programs.
  4. He’ll get into the details – this isn’t a theory course.  The goal of the course is to walk away with specific things that you can do right away.

Thanks for taking the time to get to know Ross.  I hope you’ll also take the time to introduce him your business.

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Renewable Energy Lessons From Harvard Business School’s Study on U.S. Competitiveness

Renewable Energy Lessons from Study on Competitiveness

On November 15th, Harvard Business School hosted a discussion on ways companies and other stakeholders can boost U.S. competitiveness. It took place at The Henry Ford in Detroit, and the case discussion was about the rise, fall, and rise of the Big Three U.S. automakers. The room was packed with auto industry insiders and other local business leaders. I just listened and took a lot of notes – here are two lessons I learned that we can apply to the renewable energy and building industries. If we do nothing else, these are the things that will make our industry more competitive.:

  1. Diversify. Detroit’s fall was dramatic because it’s economy was completely reliant on the auto industry. When the auto industry sputtered, the city was decimated. This is why I love solar PV, solar thermal, geothermal, energy efficiency, wind, hydronics, natural gas, heat pumps, and all of the manufacturers, wholesalers, and dealers that make up the value chain. Arguing that a single technology is better than everything else isn’t just silly, it’s bad for the long-term health of the industry. We want to be an industry of relentless, positive action – to continually move the conversation forward – because a vibrant, resilient industry (or business) is highly diversified.
  2. Invest in the ‘Commons’. Think Silicon Valley. In the early days, auto makers gathered in Michigan to share suppliers, talent, and infrastructure. Through the seventies and eighties competition became so acrimonious, and outsourcing so prevalent, that very little sharing was possible. This helped each company execute their deliberate strategies by giving them complete control over their ecosystem – so it helped them meet their quarterly numbers with more certainty. It also killed innovation. I know there’s a lot of brand loyalty in our industry – I see it especially with HVAC and geothermal products. Of course it’s necessary to be competitive with one another, but I worry that sometimes people get entrenched in their battles and write anyone off that works with a competitor. We’ve felt that at HeatSpring at times over the years, and it always seems counter productive – keeping doors and relationships open to outsiders is good business.

What is your time horizon for making decisions about your business? If your plan is to be around for a long time, then this is a call to action. Anybody can do these things in a hundred small ways, and the sum of those actions will define where we are in 50 years.

How do you plan to diversify and invest in the ‘Commons’ in 2013?

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[Video Lesson] Magic Numbers for Sizing Residential Geothermal Systems

Rules of thumb are terrible for designers, but they’re indispensable for bidding and sales.  Here’s a quick video lesson that covers rough air and water flow requirements for an average residential geothermal heat pump system.  Brought to you by John Manning, instructor for the Entry Level Geothermal Professional Certificate course.

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Geothermal and Solar Installers: Get to Know Your Municipal Utility (It’s not a Waste of Time)

“Municipal utilities are more open to trying new things than investor-owned utilities.”

This is the lesson I took away from my visit to the Wyandotte Municipal Services as part of a delegation from the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association.  They’ve implemented one of the nation’s first geothermal utility programs (details below), taking the view that each ground loop is a mini power plant they own.  The owner pays a low monthly fee to access that power plant.  They also embrace PV, biomass, wind, and hydro as complements to their coal, tire, and gas plants.  I took this awesome picture of a solar garden next to their coal plant on the tour – check out the mountain of coal behind the PV array.

Solar Garden in Front of a Pile of Coal

Check out the big pile of coal behind the Solar Garden!

Here’s the story for contractors, installers and entrepreneurs:

Wyandotte’s renewable energy program is run by a small handful of approachable people.  Pamela Tierney and Melanie McCoy are part of a small team that evaluated and implemented these programs with help from industry and the local community.  It was obvious that they’ve been involved with every installation project, and they took a full day to show us around and talk about what they’ve learned.  They are real people from the community who you can talk to.  They listen and think about what you say.  There are 251 municipal utilities in the United states (here’s a list), and if your business operates near one, then you have a huge opportunity to educate and influence policy in your area.  Set up a meeting to meet these people, figure out what they’re thinking about and find a way to be useful.  It can be a small investment of time with a big payoff.

Here’s Melanie’s explanation for why they’ve embraced geo: “Reduction of peak demand is why we do it.  It’s not just because we’re green.  When we have to go out and buy power on August 15th at 4pm, those are the most expensive megawatts we can buy.  We take a hit on that.”  They also believe that the 56 installations they’ve done to date have big economic benefits for the town.  Drillers, contractors, manufacturers, and designers are spending more time (and money) in their community as a result of these modest, but forward thinking programs.  Think about how this story might resonate with your local municipal utility and start whispering in their ear.

Here are the specific rates and details for Wyandotte’s geothermal utility program.  I took a lot of notes on lessons learned for other cities and utilities that I plan to share in a foll0w-up article.  The data on how many customers opted to finance their loops versus buy them outright is definitely interesting and worthy of it’s own discussion.  I’m always up for talking more about this stuff, so don’t hesitate to reach out.

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Two Things I Learned at the 2012 IGSHPA Conference

On Tuesday October 2nd we hosted an evening program titled, “How to Make Money in Renewable Energy” for 45 brave souls who traveled to Indianapolis for the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) Conference.

These were the panelists:

  • Allan Skouby, GeoPro – manufacturer of thermally enhanced grout.
  • Steven Hamstra, Greensleeves – engineer, designer + manufacturer of packaged geothermal solutions
  • Greg Beach, Geo-Hydro Supply – longtime installer turned wholesale distributor
  • Rick Ortman, Ortman Drilling – geothermal, water well, and environmental drilling services

Each provided a history of their company and shared the biggest challenge currently facing the business.  Ground rules were simple: 1) no marketing of yourself or your products (that’s what the trade show is for!), 2) be honest, and 3) keep it positive.

Here are the top two lessons I learned, distilled from an evening full of great conversation:

  1. Think big and be generous.  There was an obvious pattern that emerged from the guys who have made money in the geothermal industry for a long time – they help people.  Employees, customers, vendors, competitors…everybody.  The best example of this came from Rick Ortman, who partnered with two competitors to win one of the biggest geothermal drilling jobs in history (the Ball State geothermal installation).  I asked him, “Was it hard to partner with a competetor?”  His response: “Not really.  We help our competitors all the time – when the economy was really bad in the 70′s, my dad used to teach the other drillers in the area new methods and help them keep the industry going.”  Did I mention that their company has been around since 1922?  Think there’s a lesson to be learned there?
  2. Learn to tell your story so people listen.  Almost everyone’s biggest challenge seemed to revolve around convincing someone to listen and act on information they could provide.  Allan and Steve talked about design engineers, especially ones with no geothermal experience, not always listening or doing things the right way.  Greg and Rick had similar things to say about other contractors and the end customers.  The geothermal industry has such an amazing story to tell for those who will listen, but not enough people are listening.  I walked away feeling that this industry needs better storytellers as much as anything else.

Richard Hiles with Climatemaster, and Ryan Carda with GeoConnections were instrumental in making the event happen – so a big thank you to both of those guys.

These honest panel discussions aren’t for everybody, but I absolutely love them.  It’s so refreshing to get beyond all the hype and bluster and really find out what’s going on with other businesses in the industry.  There’s talk of doing more small group stuff like this, so be sure to reach out and let me know if you’d like to collaborate on something similar.

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Inside Implementing the New Hampshire Thermal REC Program

This post is part of a series to do a state by state in-depth analysis of current research, policy and other legislation in New England that is impacting, or has the ability to impact the geothermal industry. An in-depth analysis of Massachusetts has already been published. Vermont, Connecticut and New York are soon to follow.

There has been a huge amount of buzz in the geothermal world about the NH REC that passed because it’s the first in the country of it’s kind. There is work that needs to be done, but what is exciting is that is we can focus on creating and implementing the program NH has the ability to be a hot bed and lead the country in geothermal heat pump industry and eliminating oil usage for residential space heating.

The current budget has the ability to fund 1500+ residential geothermal projects, which has the potential to save New Hampshire property owners $4.8 million dollars (in 2012 dollars) on fuel costs annually and would spur $48 million dollars in 100% local jobs to design and install the new equipment. To give you some perspective, the law only requires that $575,000 be spent on purchasing thermal RECs. Yes, $575,000 in public funds have the ability to spur $48 million dollars in private investment and save 1,500 homeowners around $2,000 per year on heating costs, totally $3 million in fuel savings per year. That is amazing.

Here’s a review of what happened, and what we’re working on.

NH Current State of Geothermal Policy and Lobbying Bill

SB 218 Key Bill Language

  • XV-a. “Useful thermal energy” means renewable energy delivered from class I sources that can be metered and that is delivered in New Hampshire to an end user in the form of direct heat, steam, hot water, or other thermal form that is used for heating, cooling, humidity control, process use, or other valid thermal end use energy requirements and for which fuel or electricity would otherwise be consumed.
  • 272:4 Electric Renewable Energy Classes. Amend the introductory paragraph of RSA 362-F:4, I to read as follows:
  • I. Class I (New) shall include the production of electricity or useful thermal energy from any of the following, provided the source began operation after January 1, 2006, except as noted below:
  • 272:5 Electric Renewable Energy Classes. Amend RSA 362-F:4, I(b) to read as follows: (b) Geothermal energy, if the geothermal energy output is in the form of useful thermal energy only if the unit began operation after January 1, 2013.
  • No new employees shall be hired by the commission due to the inclusion of useful thermal energy in class I production.
  • REC Prices:
  • (a) Class I—[$57.12,] $55, except for that portion of the class electric renewable portfolio standards to be met by qualifying renewable energy technologies producing useful thermal energy under RSA 362-F:3 which shall be $25 beginning January 1, 2013.
  • (b) Class II—[$150] $55.
  • (c) Class III—[$28] $31.50.
  • (d) Class IV—[$28] $26.50. 
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New England Geothermal Policy Update, Review, and Next Steps: Massachusetts

This is the first piece on geothermal lobbying efforts that I’m completing in addition to other industry communications and research efforts. In the next few weeks, I’ll be publishing information on the current state of policy and next steps in Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York as well.

The goal of outling the current policy and legislative space in Massachusetts has a few very specific goals.

  • We are an industry with a limited amount of time and money (at the moment) but a HUGE amount of potential. Thus, we need to be razor sharp about where we apply our efforts.  This cannot be another full time job for anyone. However, we need to make ourselves a seat at the table. I think we can do this by creating the right relationships and being useful.
  • Because we have a limited amount of resources, providing a simple, clear and straightforward overview of what is happening in each state will allow us to use our resources in the most effective manner.
  • This is a living document that will be used to keep track of pieces of legislation that are being created, hearings beings had, or bills that have been passed that impact our industry. We’ll use it to keep track of key legislatures and other stakeholders that can be our an ally. We’ll look for allys that agree and have goals that overlap with geothermal: Geothermal provides the lowest cost of thermal energy, it directly replaces heating oil, it can be installed FAST, it creates 100% local jobs across the whole supply chain, and eliminates air and water pollutions issues associated with burning oil.
  • We’ll use it to understand which other organizations we need to create relationships with in order to impact the policy that is being created that will affect geothermal.
  • The process also outlines next steps for our industry in Massachusetts.
  • As always, if I missed anything, or you’d like to add something in terms of bills, studies, legislatures, or other stakeholders please email or call me cwilliams@heatspring.com, 917 767 8204.
  • Also, if you’re commissioning a large residential or commercial geothermal project in one of these district PLEASE LET ME KNOW, so we can invite a Senator who represents the district where the job is happening and create a press opportunity to show them that the technology is being used, it’s creating local jobs, and saving property owners tons of money. These are the district we’re focusing on, see more information on this below.
  • 1st Plymouth and Bristol District
  • Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin District
  • Middlesex and Worcester

Bills

  • SB2395 – Passed
  • Citation for SB2395: http://www.malegislature.gov/Bills/187/Senate/S02395
  • Section 46 is most critical to us with underlined sections that are more critical:
  • SECTION 46. The executive office of energy and environmental affairs, in consultation with the department of energy resources, shall study whether any alternative energy development, as defined in section 3 of chapter 25A of the General Laws, that generates useful thermal energy shall be added to the list of alternative energy generating sources that may be used to meet the commonwealth’s energy portfolio standard for all retail electricity suppliers selling electricity to end-use customers in the commonwealth under section 11F½ of said chapter 25A. For purposes of this study, “useful thermal energy”, shall mean energy in the form of direct heat, steam, hot water or other thermal form that is used in production and beneficial measures for heating, cooling, humidity control, process use or other valid thermal end use energy requirements and for which fuel or electricity would otherwise be consumed. The executive office of energy and environmental affairs shall submit a report of its findings not later than January 1, 2013 to the clerks of the house of representatives and the senate who shall forward a copy of the report to the joint committee on telecommunications, utilities and energy.
  • SB2768 – Green Communities in 2008 – This is an old bill, but it will be key to understand who support it because they will likely have open ears to ground source heat pumps.

What SB 2395 bill says, in a nutshell

  • SB 2395 says that Massachusetts DOER will do a renewable thermal study and they will send results to energy committee by January 1, 2013. This means that the geothermal industry needs to establish relationships and get involved with both the DOER and the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utility, and Energy. Our primary goal right now is simply exploratory and to create relationships with both those organizations.
  • When reaching out it’s key that we understand the impact that the language around “retail electricity suppliers” will have around the analysis and their understanding of geothermal, as the technology largest benefit in the Northeast is replacing fossil fuel use for space heating and shaving peak cooling demand. What this means is that from the government’s perspective, they may only be interested in the technology for shaving peak demand from cooling, even though it has a huge heating benefit. Or, they might just be interested in it’s benefits for replacing oil use for heating.
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“How To Make Money in Renewable Energy” Meet-Up at the 2012 IGSHPA Conference


Going to the IGSHPA conference in Indy?  If so, let us buy you a drink.  HeatSpring Learning Institute, GeoConnections, and ClimateMaster are hosting a meet-up for business owners in town for the IGSHPA Conference.

Tuesday October 2nd – 7-9pm – Cost: Free

Ram Restaurant & Big Horn Brewery
140 South Illinois Street
Indianapolis, IN 46225

REGISTER TO ATTEND HERE

This event will have STRUCTURE.  Here’s how things will go:

  1. 30 minutes of informal networking.
  2. Short presentation on making money and building a company that is built for the long-haul.
  3. Panelists introduce their business and answer the question, “What is the biggest issue facing your business right now?” (about five minutes each)
  4. Discussion about specific issues – conversation moderated by HeatSpring.
  5. 30 minutes of informal networking.

This is not:

  • Just another cocktail party-style networking event
  • A soap box to use for marketing your company
  • A place to sound impressive or make other people look or feel bad

We’re limiting registration so there’s some intimacy and structure.  Please only register as a panelist if you have an existing business and are willing to talk openly about it – both the good and the bad.

We’ve done this before (here’s a link to my write up of a previous event) – it can be a really powerful learning tool for business owners.  But every event is different, so we’ll see how it goes.  It all depends on how willing the group is to be open and share with each other.

I hope to see you there!

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