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