The HVAC geothermal industry recently received some good news when Google formed an independent business called Dandelion to get into the geothermal space. This is one of Google’s secret projects that is becoming its own company.

Dandelion is looking to shake up the geothermal industry by solving the biggest barrier to the technology — upfront cost. The company is said to have a new technology for drilling, which will significantly reduce costs. In addition, they will have a no-cost down financing plan for homeowners. It is important to point out the word on the street is they will not have a factory somewhere producing actual product. Most likely, they will be buying product from one of the players already in this space.

Dandelion is starting small. It is only targeting about 18 counties in upstate New York. I assume the company has lined up a couple of installers to be part of the program. Dandelion executives recently spoke at the New York Geo Conference in Albany and revealed they are targeting retrofit homes that use propane or oil. There are obviously many of those types of homes in upstate New York, so the business plan makes perfect sense.


And why wouldn’t their business plan makes sense — they are Google. And that is why those in the geothermal industry should be excited that they now have another competitor in the space. That was certainly the response from Doug Dougherty, president and CEO of the Geothermal Exchange Organization. And after two years of fighting with Washington, D.C., to rightfully get their tax credits, Dougherty could use some good news.

“Right out of the gate it validates our technology,” Dougherty said.  “Think about the number of companies that go through the moonshot of the Google X incubator program only to be canned. I understand about 95 percent don’t go. Their goal is to prove that things don’t work. For this to be launched on its own shows a strong signal to the HVAC industry that geothermal heat pumps are the future.”

While it’s not exactly apples to apples, one needs to look no farther than the Nest thermostat to see how tech companies can introduce HVAC products to the mainstream public. When my mom started talking about a smart thermostat is about when I realized it hit critical mass.

Can that happen with geothermal? Perhaps, but the industry needs to concentrate on the blind spots that Google is shining a light on. No-cost-down financing is really the only way geothermal can increase its current 0.75 percent market share. You read that right, geothermal occupies less than 1 percent of the market.

Dougherty uses the analogy of buying a car. When you go to buy a $30,000 car, the dealership sells you on a monthly payment with little or no money down. Not many folks can just write a check for the full amount. That’s the model — to get customers on a monthly payment that is hopefully less than their energy savings.

Now I realize this is a lot easier said than done. A lot of dealers don’t want to get involved in financing. Plus, the simple truth is that it is often hard to obtain third-party financing.

But the game just changed. The bully who has been stealing kids’ lunch money for a few years just got transferred to your school. Here is a company blessed by Google that is going to lower the cost and offer a good financing package.

“I was shocked and thrilled to see it happen. It is great for recognition and promotion,” Dougherty said. “It shows people how to skin this cat.”

The geothermal industry should embrace it. A rising tide lifts all boats.

Publication date: 8/7/2017

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