Technology

Women transform the home heating market

 By Michael Belfiore

At Dandelion, a geothermal energy start-up based in New York City, 31-year-old CEO Kathy Hannun no longer dreams of affordable and sustainable residential geothermal energy in the U.S. – she’s creating it. Her company uses new technology to cut the price of geothermal installations in half. Its biggest challenge now is keeping up with the high demand for installations…

Originally a project at X, the research and development arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Dandelion was launched independently in 2017, with 26-year-old Director of Communcations, Katie Ullmann, 38-year-old Chief Technology Officer, James Quazi, and Hannun leading the way.
“The demand we’re seeing makes it clear homeowners are ready to transition from their fossil heating systems to renewable geothermal”, said Hannun.

Energy from the earth

Geothermal technology simply borrows the natural heat of the ground under your feet. A geothermal system pumps water a few hundred feet down, where the Earth’s warmth heats it.
The system then pumps it back up to heat a building, with only a small boost needed from electricity, which can come from renewable sources. The system can also cool, as long as the water pumped through it from above ground is warmer than below. Dandelion cuts installation costs in a number of ways. While other companies build geothermal systems from scratch at each customer’s home, Dandelion does much of the work at a manufacturing facility, reducing the labor required for installations. Automation at the factory also helps reduce costs.
“There are humans there to monitor the machines, but most of the pipes and parts are created on an assembly line”, said communications director Ullmann. She explained that, besides reducing assembly costs, “Automation really increases reliability and durability because, as we all know, humans are prone to error, much more than a machine”.
And then there’s the Dandelion Drill. The proprietary drilling system can drill a hole in 45 minutes as opposed to conventional drills, which can take several hours to do the same job. “It’s really still a research and development project”, said Ullmann. “Every time we use it we learn from it”.

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The Dandelion team on the set of an American late-night talk and news program (dandelionenergy.com)

Installing a geothermal revolution

Dandelion’s waiting list of homeowners is a testament to the effectiveness of the company’s approach. “We’ll probably do a couple hundred [geothermal systems] this year, which doesn’t meet the thousands of customers waiting”, Hannun said. The company is working now to ramp up in 2019 with the help of investments in new technology and customer experience. Dandelion also offers financing options designed to bring monthly payments below the level of homeowners’ previous heating costs. “We make geothermal heating and air conditioning more affordable than propane and oil heating”, Hannun explained. “It’s exciting to be building a product that’s better for homeowners as individuals and better for all of us as a society”. Also exciting to Hannun is building a company that embraces diversity and the needs of families. She leads the 15-person, ethnically diverse company by fearless example. Hannun described closing a $4.5-million financing round the day before giving birth to her daughter. “It was inspiring to watch her go through the fundraising process”, said Ullmann. “Kathy’s words of wisdom were along the lines of, ‘Fear is really what holds us back, just go for it.’ And she really lived that out this year”.
Dandelion has now raised a total of $6.5 million and recently began implementing policies such as three months paid maternity leave for the mother and two months paid leave for the other parent. “It is pretty clear that the sky is the limit for anyone at this company, regardless of gender“, said Ullmann.
Smart investors would seem to agree. A study from the Boston Consulting Group found that, while female business owners receive an average of more than $1 million less in early-stage capital than their male counterparts, women’s companies “ultimately deliver higher revenue  more than twice as much per dollar invested – than those founded by men, making women-owned companies better investments for financial backers”.

Looking head

Besides working to keep up with the demand for its geothermal installations, Dandelion is also hard at work on the heating and cooling units that draw from geothermal energy. In May, the company announced Dandelion Air, a combined heating and cooling unit that the company says is four times more efficient at heating in the winter and twice as efficient at cooling in the summer as conventional systems.

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Dandelion Air replaces home’s existing air conditioning and heating equipment with a powerful heat pump and safe, underground pipes that move heat between the earth and home (dandelionenergy.com)

Dandelion Air is part of the Dandelion Home Geothermal System, which includes the installation of underground pipes, a buffer tank for hot water, a Nest Learning Thermostat, and a smart monitoring system. All combined, the system costs homeowners under $20,000 after tax credits, state rebates and federal incentives.
Since launching Dandelion Air, thousands of additional homeowners have been signing up for installations. The demand is mainly in the Northeast, where Hannun and her colleagues identified the greatest initial need. However, many are in California as well. “People [in California] are excited to be early adopters of new technology and energy”, Ullmann explained.
From its base in the Northeast, Dandelion is rapidly expanding its services across the country and has recently partnered with six new installers. Thanks to Dandelion, the future for geothermal seems bright.

READ ALSO: Geothermal energy gains esteem in Reno by Sharon Fisher

about the author
Michael Belfiore