The geothermal industry has reached a point where technical competence is no longer a bottleneck to the growth of the industry. WE KNOW how to design projects that work. Now, there are a few more items that are holding us back and I’m going to start addressing them. If you’re interested in working together on this in any way, email me at email@example.com, or call directly 917 767 8204 (<– yes, I’m serious)
- 1. Research. We need to perform industry research that will aid in communication and lobbying efforts. On a technical level, we NEED to understand real operating data between geothermal and air source heat pumps. On an industry level, we need to understand how many jobs we support, industry growth numbers, and other key metrics.
- 2. Communication. We need to GET LOUD, and coordinated, about LOVING geothermal and not take anyones sh%t about it. Let’s be clear, we have 1 of the 2 technologies that can eliminate on site fossil fuel use for spacing heating. We need to create a specific list of talking points that the industry can use during a) sales calls and b) lobbying purposes. We’re all answering all the same questions all the time, let’s make this list bullet proof.
- 3. Lobbying. We need to learn from our success in Maryland and New Hampshire, learn from our failure, in Colorado, and pick our next battles. We need to coordinate our resources and pick the right battles that we know that we can win.
A quick note about communicatations and lobbing, I’ve had a few people give me feedback about not being interested in dealing with the government and just wanting to “do it ourselves” and my response to this is short and sweet. WE CANNOT be naive. We’re dealing in two industries that are closely linked to the government as possible, energy and real estate.
The geothermal industry has a great technical resource and certification program in IGSHPA, and Geoexchange is a great consortium that has facilitated the exchange of news, case studies and federal lobbying in support for the industry.
However, based on weekly conversations I’ve been having over the summer, I feel that what we’re trully lacking is a group that is not focusing on the technology competence, but industry coordination.
What would this look like? We have a great model, if we just look at solar PV and the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA)
SEIA has a national chapter that lobbies the federal government. The national chapter also coordinates and helps with efforts in specific states. If there is a fight in Colorado, they will get assistance from the mothership in cash, money, connections and data. SEIA performs research in conjunction with research organizations like Greentech Media, that provide them the data needed in lobbying and public relations. Lastly, SEIA provides communications guidance for the whole industry. Framing the failure of Solyndra as a success of the solar industry, because costs were dropping so rapidly, was amazingly organized. We need the same communications coordination with geothermal.
Here are my initial thoughts of what it would look like.
1. National Organization could be a 501 c6 trade association.
To be honest, most of the action points needed to get started will not need to structure of another legal entity and any incorporation will likely not come until traction has been gained in other places because it’s such a slow process.
However, to brainstorm, the organization would be supported from membership dues and selling industry reports. SEIA works with Greentech Media to produce and sell industry reports and they receive a significant portion of the proceeds.
2. The national organizations would assist all the state organizations.
It would help state organizations with lobbying, performing industry research, and by providing talking points and easy access to information. For example, I am routinely answering questions about what exactly are the installed costs of geothermal. We need to make this information more accessible. We have a lot of amazing state and regional geothermal heat pumps organizations too:
- California Geo is starting
- Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization is starting
- Iowa Geothermal Association
- Minnesota Geothermal Heat Pumps Association
- The Mid-Atlantic Geothermal Association
- Many others 🙂
However, we need to figure out how to get them to start working together. For example, Martin Orio and NEGPA just did an amazing job passing thermal RECs in New Hampshire. We need an easy and efficient way to communicate how exactly that effort was completed in New Hampshire, so we can do it in other states.
3. Perform Research on both the whole industry and research on real operating efficiency.
The geothermal industry is lacking some basic pieces of information that are critical for any lobbying and public communications.
- What is the current size of the industry?
- How many jobs are created by each installation?
- How many jobs do we have in the geothermal industry?
- Out of every dollar spent on a geothermal installation, how much stays in the US?
- What is the lifecycle cost of a geothermal BTU compared with other sources? In residential? commercial? industrial?
- What are installed costs in each region?
- Which state has the largest geothermal industry and why?
- Where are the largest opportunities for the geothermal industry?
- And many more….
I’m giving a talk in Vermont that seeks to address the question of how much oil Vermont wants to burn in the next 10 years, and to be honest, I don’t have all the data I need to get the talk. There are a number of firms that routinely do industry research like this that I will be approaching to pitch doing geothermal research. These firms include:
- Greentech Media
- Pike Research
- Clean Edge
Alongside industry research, we also need to start gathering REAL OPERATING data about these technologies. If a homeowner came to me with a geothermal system and asked how much money she saved in the last 5 years, I couldn’t tell her the answer. It would be a guess. Real time monitoring is the key.
All of the existing geothermal studies have tended to have 1) really small sample sizes 2) lack transparency or 3) released one time reports based on a spot analysis of operating data.
We need to fund a project to analyze the operating efficiencies of 100s of ground source systems and make all of the data completely open to the industry, so that we can all use it, and so that there will be no disputing the results.
With today’s technology, I’m assuming it will cost $1,000 for equipment and labor to monitor an existing residential system. Thus, to mintor 100 systems, we’ll need $100,000. I feel there are two main types of ground to reach out:
- Industry Associations: NGWA, ACCA, NEGPA
- State Clean Energy Organizations: Massachusetts DOER, MA CEC, DEP, EPA
4. Clarify communications and public relations.
This is a huge issue for geothermal industry. From constantly having deal with the air source guys, to communicating the geothermal is simply THE SMARTEST way to heat and cool buildings.
Among other things, we need to create and disementate talking points about
- Air source and geothermal heat pumps. How do you compare them realistically?
- The benefits for district heating applications, as witness by the Ball State project.
- Why geothermal is a no brainer for new construction
- Why geothermal should be considered in every oil and propane retrofit
- Geothermal is a proven and riskless technology
- Geothermal is simple and cost effective
5. Next steps
When thinking about next steps, my goal is to figure out how we can create something that is valuable extremely quickly. Here are my thoughts
- Create a small working group is less then 10 people that want to make this happen. In the beginning, I believe that less is more, so we can actually get something done.
- Determine specific research and communication goals and start getting out talking points.
- Later, determine how the group will be incorporated and what the specific relationship will be between national and state chapters. We need to figure out exactly what state chapters needs so they can be supported.
- In the beginning, I do not think that we will need an actual legal entity, but we can gain traction in other means.
6. Here are my personal next steps and what I’m going to be working on.
If no one is interested, that’s fine, I’ll be working on it anyway 😉 If you’re interested in working together on this in any way, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call directly 917 767 8204 (<– yes, I’m serious)
- I’m reaching out to Greentech Media, Pike Research, and Clean Edge to pitch them on doing industry research on the ground source heat pump industry. Without question, there is enough demand about specific pieces of information that we don’t have access to that they will be able to make money on a report.
- Monitor a combination of 100 to 400 geothermal and air source systems around New England. I’ll be looking for state grants, money from industry associations, etc to actually monitor really systems. Why? Because all of the stated efficiencies of these systems are not known. We need to start monitoring real time data. This will have a huge impact on our ability to SELL and lobby government and it will reduce a lot of risk for property owners. My assumption is that monitoring one system will cost about $1k in equipment and labor, so we may need to reduce our target goal based on the funds are can raise.
- Creation of a guide for contractors called “Apples to Apples Comparison of Air Source and Geothermal Heat Pumps”. We need a standard way to compare these two technologies because the current ratings don’t work.
- Create a list of talking points for the industry that are well researched, cited, and crafted. The talking points will be a living document and will mainly be used for marketing, sales, lobbying and PR. The document will be updated regularly as more data comes to light.
- Collect lessons learned about lobbying and spread to the community, we’ve recently had some good wins and some losses, we need to learn from both. Here’s who I’ll be talking to. Martin Orio in NH, Scott Friedman in Maryland, Ben Northcutt in Colorado
- Picking our next battles, two things have happened recently that make me believe New England is going to be a ground zero for geothermal legislation as both Vermont and Massachusetts are taking a serious look at these issues. Both Vermont and Massachusetts are also looking promising for geothermal, I’m sitting on a thermal efficiency board in Vermont and will also be speaking with the MA CEC about their new geothermal rebates.
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