At Buildings Hub, we love to talk about electric heat pumps. They’re highly efficient, require little maintenance, and are one of the best decarbonization solutions out there. This week, we’ll give you a short primer on one of the most exciting geothermal heat pump installers in the United States – Dandelion Energy. But before we dive in, we need to talk about some recent economic news that has a direct impact on building decarbonization.
Oil prices have skyrocketed over the past month. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, crude spiked to nearly $125 a barrel. One direct implication of rising crude prices is the increase in the price of fuel oil. The petroleum derivative is used to heat millions of homes across the US, primarily in the Northeast. A jump from $3 to $5 a gallon equates to a $300 jump on your monthly heating bill – a massive, unexpected hit for those dependent on fuel oil for home heating.
Luckily for homeowners in cold climates, geothermal or “ground source” heat pumps can offer a solution to escape both frigid weather and volatile oil prices.
Transitioning thousands of homes away from fuel oil and natural gas HVAC systems is not an easy task. People need an incentive, often an economic motivator, to replace their legacy units. Most of the time, this only happens when old systems break down. However, ballooning bills might be enough of a driver to convince more people to consider a proactive upgrade.
Dandelion aims to make the transition to ground source electric heat pumps as seamless as possible. The company spun off from a Google X project less than five years ago but is off to a great start. The geothermal moonshot has already installed hundreds of systems and raked in a substantial amount of revenue – $20 million in 2020 alone – thanks to growing market penetration in New York and across New England.
Dandelion provides an option for homeowners to veer away from expensive fuel oil deliveries or polluting gas hookups. Instead, the company provides the option to tap into the near-constant, 55-degree temperature below the Earth for year-round heating and cooling that can cut energy use in half and provide homeowners with substantial savings on utility bills. Geothermal heat pumps require almost no water, generate nearly zero noise pollution, and are the most environmentally friendly and energy efficient way to heat and cool a home. They also lower peak demand and provide homeowners with a resilience benefit during natural disasters and load shedding events.
During the winter months, a geothermal heat pump moves heat from the relatively warmer sub-surface to a building through a ground loop. In the summer months, it works in reverse, pulling heat from the building and depositing it into the earth. If outfitted with a special device called a desuperheater, waste heat from the system can be used for efficient water heating. This technology applies to single- and multi-unit dwellings as well as commercial buildings.
Alongside the many benefits offered by geothermal systems, there are some unfortunate drawbacks that Dandelion seeks to mitigate. The first one is the potentially disruptive installation process. For residential set-ups on smaller lots, U-shaped piping needs to be drilled 300 to 500 feet down in the homeowner’s yard. Dandelion seeks to minimize the invasiveness of this procedure through its precision drilling technology and advanced equipment that can fit into tighter spaces. As GreenTech Media put it, the company “Drill[s] smarter, not harder,” pioneering a new use-case for narrower sonic drills typically used in geotechnical engineering. The technique minimizes disruption to customers’ yards and allows Dandelion to install heat pumps on much smaller properties.
The other drawback we have to mention is cost. Dandelion’s systems can cost anywhere from $25k to $75k depending on the size of the house and system required. However, this estimate is before tax incentives and rebates are applied. Dandelion educates its customers on how to apply for these savings programs, such as the 26% federal income tax credit for residential ground source heat pumps, as well as the generous utility rebates available in states like New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Additionally, the company requires no money down and offers monthly financing options to spread out the fixed cost over multiple years.