Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

 

According to Bill Gates, heating and cooling account for 7% of global carbon emissions. Not a great deal perhaps, but given that we need to cut emissions to zero they must be dealt with.

In a moment we'll hear about a form of low carbon heating from Kathy Hannun of Dandelion Energy, of particular interest to listeners in North America. Before that it's my pleasure to welcome two new patrons of the Sustainable Futures Report, Silver Supporters David Emslie and Chris Musselle.  Welcome to both and thanks indeed for your support. If you’d like to be a patron you’ll find out more at the end of this episode. I’m also going to talk about how Brexit has changed the whole approach of the British Government to environmental regulation.

But first here’s my conversation with

Kathy Hannun of Dandelion Energy.

Anthony Day:

Well, today we're going to talk about domestic heating, and my guest on the Sustainable Futures Report is Kathy Hannun, who is the President of Dandelion Energy of New York State. Kathy, welcome.

Kathy Hannun:

Thank you so much.

Anthony Day:

Geothermal

Now most people heat their homes with natural gas, or with oil, or sometimes with electricity, and you're talking about geothermal energy. Now, when I think of geothermal, I think of hot rocks at the centre of the earth. So does that mean that we have to be living on the slopes of a volcano to take advantage of it?

Kathy Hannun:

You know, I'm glad you asked, because certainly if that were the case, it would be a little bit less applicable to most homes. But actually with this kind of geothermal, we're just talking about essentially sunlight that's heated up the very shallow underground. So any home on the ground, essentially, can take advantage of this form of geothermal heat. You don't have to be in a volcanically active location.

Anthony Day:

Great. Well, tell me a bit how it works. You drill into the earth. How do you do that? Why'd you do it? And how does it all work together?

Kathy Hannun:

Drill

Yes, absolutely. So we do, we drill into the yard, typically about maybe 100 to 200 meters down, so it's quite deep.

Anthony Day:

Yeah.

Kathy Hannun:

But these holes are also quite narrow. And we do that because we just put a simple plastic pipe that circulates water down into the ground to pick up just the heating energy that's naturally there. That water is then sent to a heat pump that is inside the home, typically in a basement or utility closet, and that heat pump extracts that heat very efficiently, and concentrates it, so we're getting to much higher temperatures than are found in the earth, and then blows it throughout the home. So it sounds complicated, but it's actually very similar to how a refrigerator works, or an air conditioner works. Both of those types of equipment are also heat pumps.

Anthony Day:

Now, the systems that you use in the States, which is different for what we use generally in Europe, is that you're using a heat exchanger connected to your heat pump to directly heat the air, which is then blown throughout the house. Is that correct?

Kathy Hannun:

Forced Air Heating

That's correct. So Dandelion today, we serve homes that have duct work and use forced air heating. Geothermal as a technology can also be used for homes with radiators, who use radiant heating. So it's not a technology limitation, it's just not what Dandelion offers today because so many of the homes we serve have that duct work.

Anthony Day:

Yes, of course, of course. And I believe that you could use that duct work in reverse, in other words, used as a cooling system.

Kathy Hannun:

Yes.

Anthony Day:

And cooling

So what are you doing? Are you taking the heat and then putting it back down into the earth?

Kathy Hannun:

Exactly, exactly right. And when you think about how an air conditioner works, with that type of heat pump you're also extracting heat from a house, but with an air conditioner, you're rejecting it into that outdoor air.

Anthony Day:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kathy Hannun:

And that's very difficult and inefficient to do when it's very hot out, because heat likes to go from hotter places to colder places, not from colder places to hotter places. But unfortunately we need air conditioning most when it's the hottest outside. So we have this unfortunate situation with air conditioners where just when you need them the most, they work the least well. Whereas with geo, because the ground maintains this very mild, steady temperature year round, the ground is actually going to be cooler than the air inside the house. So it's much more efficient, much easier to reject that heat into the ground than it would be to reject it into the hot outdoor air.

Anthony Day:

So you are heating and cooling this shaft where you have put the loop, which is collecting or rejecting the heat.

Kathy Hannun:

That's right, yep.

Anthony Day:

If you're putting that fairly close to the property, is there any risk that it destabilise the foundations of the building?

Kathy Hannun:

No, there's not. So we think about that question in two ways. So one is, we want to make sure that the drilling equipment itself doesn't get too close to the foundation, because putting any very heavy thing next to a foundation, you just need to be careful that, the heavier it is, the farther away it needs to be, so it doesn't put too much pressure on that soil next to the foundation. The Dandelion drilling equipment that we use, we've actually made it much lighter, and the weight is much more spread out than conventional drilling equipment, that's one of the things we brought to this process, so we are able to safely get much closer to homes without worrying that we're putting too much weight on that land.

Kathy Hannun:

And that's convenient because some homes really just don't have a big yard, so the only place to drill is right next to the home, and we can do that with our equipment. And then the other thing that some homeowners ask about is, "Well, what about the vibration when you're drilling. You have some frequency, and you're pounding on the rocks underground, will that have an impact?" And the truth is the ground attenuates vibration very, very quickly, so the ground itself, it really isolates the home from that activity very, very well. So that's really not a concern at all, it's more just being careful about the weight distribution.

Anthony Day:

On your video you talk about the drilling process, and you talk about the way that you use vibration to speed up the penetration right into the depths, and even through bedrock. So is that a unique design to your organization?

Kathy Hannun:

Sonic Drilling

So Dandelion certainly did not invent sonic drilling, and exactly what you're describing, it's called sonic drilling, and you vibrate the, it's called casing, but the metal shaft you're trying to put into the ground, you vibrate it at a certain frequency that essentially causes what's called liquefaction to happen right around it in the soil. So it makes that soil act like a liquid, and it's really interesting, it's really fun to watch because you see this metal tube essentially slipping in to solid ground as if that ground were butter, or something that wasn't solid, and it almost defies logic when you watch it, but it's just because we've achieved this resonant frequency that allows that to happen. So while we did not invent that technology, it's been around for decades, we repurposed it, and put it to use for making geothermal installations much easier, cleaner, and less expensive for homeowners.

Anthony Day:

Presumably it depends on exactly the nature of the ground that you're working on, because if there's a lot of rock, how do things work there?

Kathy Hannun:

Yes, that is one of the central challenges of drilling, and certainly of geothermal drilling, is that in different locations you might have bedrock to surface, or you might have soil hundreds of meters down. And so one of the things we've thought about when designing our drilling suite is how do we build the Swiss Army Knife of drills so that it's optimized for that uncertainty. It might not be the perfect solution for any one very specific condition, but as a whole, because we're doing hundreds of homes, it works better than anything else would, just on average for those homes. So you're mentioning one of the key challenges of really figuring out how to do this efficiently.

Anthony Day:

Right, okay. Let's go back into the home, that's where you receive the heat. What temperature are you achieving from the heat pump?

Kathy Hannun:

Typically the air temperatures that are going into the duct work, anywhere from 90 degrees Fahrenheit to around 110 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhere in that range. So it depends on a few factors, like what temperature the homeowner has set their thermostat too, but that's typically the range we're seeing.

Anthony Day:

30 to 45 degrees centigrade.

Kathy Hannun:

Thank you, thank you, yes.

Anthony Day:

Domestic Hot Water

Can you actually heat domestic water to that level as well?

Kathy Hannun:

We do. So that happens to be called a desuperheater. Don't ask me why it's called that, but when you add a desuperheater to a geothermal heat pump, you are actually able to harvest some of that heat to supplement your domestic hot water. So our homeowners get about half of their domestic hot water supplied by the heat pump.

Anthony Day:

Okay, so you still have to have an electric immersion heater, presumably.

Kathy Hannun:

Right, exactly, yep.

Anthony Day:

Well the key thing that people are going to ask is, okay, it's green, and we all want to be green, but is it cost effective? You are not paying for natural gas or oil, but you are paying for electricity.

Kathy Hannun:

Yes.

Anthony Day:

And so you have got bills. How will they compare?

Kathy Hannun:

Costs

Let's take the operating cost question, so how much does it cost to run the system over time, and then I'll take on the upfront cost question was is how much does it cost to get this thing installed in the house? So when you just look at an operating cost perspective, geothermal heating is the least expensive way, typically by a large margin, to heat and cool homes. And when you're comparing it to something like oil heating, it can be as much as 80% less expensive, very significantly less. If you're looking at natural gas where the prices are lower, the differential will be less. It will be less expensive than gas, but not by as wide a margin as a more expensive fuel. And then when you compare it to something like electric resistance heating, it's about 25% the cost.

Kathy Hannun:

So we're looking from an operating cost perspective at significant decreases. The challenge with geothermal historically has been, yes, that's great, but it's just been so expensive to install upfront that even with those large decreases, the paybacks still haven't been attractive. And so really our reason for being at Dandelion, and the heart of what we're trying to do, is bring that up front cost down so it's a no brainer, it's not that expensive to get it installed up front, so of course you're going to want to realise those huge cost savings over time. And then we're really aligning the homeowner's financial incentives with societal impact.

Kathy Hannun:

Payback

So right now we're at a payback period for homeowners using fuel oil or propane, so those more expensive fuels, of around five to seven years. Our typical customer is paying somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3,000 a year on fuel oil. When they switched to Dandelion, they'll likely be paying about a thousand dollars a year for running their geothermal system. So they're saving about $2,000 a year, and a lot of our homeowners are at the point where their furnaces are getting kind of old. So a lot of people are like, "Well, I'm going to have to replace this furnace anyway, so I can either commit to a decade more of fuel oil, or switch to geo." So they save the cost of not having to buy that furnace or air conditioner that they would have had to buy.

Kathy Hannun:

So upfront our system will cost people in the neighbourhood of $25,000, which is probably about 15ish thousand dollars more than what a furnace would have cost you.

Anthony Day:

Yeah, but then they will get that money back over time in actual fuel cost savings.

Kathy Hannun:

Exactly. And one of the really great things about these systems is that once you install the ground loops in the yard, and those ground loops are the most expensive part of the installation, they will last as long as the home. So you do it once, you get the ground loops installed, and then you have geothermal forever. The heat pumps lasts about 25 years, so it's a very long equipment lifetime, but 25 years from now when you have to replace your heat pump, it'll be very similar to replacing a central air conditioning unit. It's going to be much less expensive than getting that system in place to start.

Anthony Day:

But you're saying that the ground loops will last more or less indefinitely.

Kathy Hannun:

Yes, they do.

Anthony Day:

All Right. Yes, I've seen your video, and it's quite impressive the way that you create the shaft. It's quite a big piece of plant, although it fits well into residential environments. But it's still quite a big project. And I have to ask, there are heat pumps and heat pumps, why ground source, why not use an air source heat pump, which is a much simpler, a smaller, and cheaper unit?

Kathy Hannun:

Air Source Heat Pump

I think the main trade off there, so there's two, one is, when it gets very, very cold, it's hard to extract enough heat from very cold air to sufficiently heat a home. So I think air source units are a very good solution for mild climates.

Anthony Day:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Kathy Hannun:

Where it never gets that cold. They struggle more when you get very cold weather. There's a lot of attention going into innovating to make heat pumps, work at colder and colder temperatures. So it's a problem that many people are interested in because the electrification of heating needs to happen. But it's a thermodynamic challenge. Once the heat content in the air is low enough, it's just going to be hard to extract enough of it to heat a home. So our hypothesis is, it's much easier to figure out how to put a piece of plastic in the ground cheaply, efficiently, quickly, then solve this thermodynamic problem.

Kathy Hannun:

The second piece of it is, when you look at that operating cost, like I mentioned, that geothermal can be like 20% of the costs of some fuels, or 25% of the cost of electric resistance, air source will be much more than that because it's never going to operate as efficiently. And because the geothermal system has such a long lifetime, and it operates at such a low cost, the actual value to the homeowner it's much greater. So financially it's in people's best interest to have geothermal.

Kathy Hannun:

But all of that said our challenge as Dandelion, and really the problem we're looking to solve over time, is how do we make that a installation of the ground loop easier and easier and simpler and simpler over time. And I think we've made a lot of progress in the time we've existed. So in the last four years, I think the drill that we use today has significant advantages over conventional, but I think we're just getting started. So I would imagine that four years from now, that drilling process will look much simpler and make it less of a big project as we go into the future.

Kathy Hannun:

Well I think, this week for example, it is in the low teens Fahrenheit.

Anthony Day:

Right, so that's minus 10 to 12 centigrade, yeah.

Kathy Hannun:

Yep. Those are the temperatures where these systems really shine. They're connected to the ground, which isn't that cold, and so they're able to deliver the heating capacity that the home need.

Anthony Day:

So what sort of temperature would you find in the shaft in the ground?

Kathy Hannun:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), so the shallow ground temperature tends to just be the average air temperature over the course of the year at that location. So here in New York, it's about 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Anthony Day:

Right, throughout the year?

Kathy Hannun:

Throughout the year, exactly. And of course as we pull heat out of that ground loop to heat the house, it gets colder and colder, because we're removing heat. And then summer comes, and then we're rejecting heat into it so it gets warmer and warmer. And the way we size that ground loop and determine how deep it needs to be for a given home is making sure that it never gets too cold, and it never gets too hot. It's long enough so that that heating or cooling is distributed enough, that it's within the bounds that will make that heat pump operate at very, very high efficiency.

Anthony Day:

Yeah. Well Kathy, this has been very interesting. You now have a new president, of course, who's got very, very different views on climate change and things like that. Do you think that the change of administration will actually bring in grants and subsidies for systems such as yours?

Kathy Hannun:

Build Back Better

Build Back Better is what they're calling it, and I think that that's very aligned to what we're doing. So at Dandelion we hire a lot of people to drill those holes, to connect them to the house, to install that new equipment. And we can't outsource those jobs, these are people that have to go in person to all of these homes, in all of these communities, by definition they have to be local. And so because we're hiring and creating a lot of jobs in local communities to transition people to green energy, what we're doing is just very aligned with the narrative that I see the administration putting forth. And so that gives me some hope that their policies will just be a really good fit for our vision for how this will go as well.

Anthony Day:

Great, well that's a very positive note to end on. Kathy Hannun of Dandelion Energy, thank you very much for talking to he Sustainable Futures Report

Kathy Hannun:

And thank you for having me.

You can find out more and watch the video of the drilling process at dandelionenergy.com

 Brexit

Britain has left the EU. Brexit is a fact. Writing in The New European, Ian Dunt explains how this will affect climate action in the UK. Former prime minister David Cameron tried to tone down environmental regulation but found he was very restricted by EU directives. If the country failed to observe them fines would have to be paid. As I reported in previous episodes, the government was successfully sued on several occasions by Client Earth for failing to meet EU standards for clean air. 

Office for Environmental Protection

Of course, EU directives no longer apply in the UK. The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has been established to take the place of the European Commission in this area. This new office does not have anything like the powers that the commission has. It is controlled by DEFRA, the department for the environment, food and rural affairs. It cannot sanction the government because the Secretary of State for DEFRA can overrule it. It can apply to the High Court for an environmental review but the court will have no power to award damages or impose penalties. Any other action taken by the OEP must not be “detrimental to good administration” according to the legislation. Whatever that means.

In his article Ian Dunt suggests that our prime minister is ready and eager to make promises, but post Brexit he will have every opportunity to fail to carry them out. I fear he’s right. 

And that’s it until next time.

Next week there will be an interview about Waves and Beaches. I think you’ll find the book interesting, and the author looks pretty interesting as well.

Before I go I promised to tell you how you too can become a Patron like many other people, including latest Silver Supporters Chris Musselle and David Emslie. For a small monthly contribution you can help me cover the costs of the Sustainable Futures Report. It’s the only source of income as there’s no advertising, sponsorship or subsidies. As a Patron you will have exclusive access to the A-Z of Sustainability which I’m launching this month. (A is for Action as I told you last time - and for a lot more besides.) I’m always grateful to patrons for information and ideas. If you want to sign up you’ll find the details at patreon.com/sfr.

Thank you for listening.

That was the Sustainable Futures Report

I’m Anthony Day.

Until next time.

See -

https://dandelionenergy.com 

The New European #223 25th February - 3rd March 2021

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

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