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  • Matt Tucker

Climate Change Action Organization Spotlight: HEET - leading an underground revolution!

Updated: Apr 30

HEET volunteers wearing hardhats at a thermal network job site

The story of Home Energy Efficiency Team otherwise known as HEET is a wonderful example of volunteer climate activists working together to create a climate change action organization that is making a huge difference in the fight against climate change.

It all started 15 years ago when a handful of neighborhood climate activists met on a rainy day in a Boston area garage. They brainstormed on ways to make a difference on climate change and landed on the idea of convening weekly gatherings of volunteers to collectively improve the energy efficiency of somebody's home. From there, their idea expanded to sister groups all over the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the foundation funding this work decided to redirect their funds to other causes and HEET needed to pivot.

That's when one of HEET's original volunteers, Audrey Shulman came up with the idea of looking closely at methane leaks coming from Massachusetts' aging fossil gas line network. HEET's volunteers created a map of these leaks all over the state based on publicly available information provided by the gas utilities. HEET then started the work of identifying super emitter leaks. They found that only 7% of leaks were responsible for over 50% of all methane emissions! They then worked with gas utilities to focus the utilities' efforts on these leaks.

At that point, Zeyneb Magavi joined HEET. She saw the enormous investment that the gas utilities were having to make fixing these leaks as an opportunity to do something truly massive: transition the fossil gas utilities from providers of gas to providers of thermal energy, a technology HEET eventually dubbed "networked geothermal". Networked geothermal is a riff on a ground source heat pump system where the ground below the frost line maintains a fairly steady temperature year round and can provide a source of heat in the winter and a sink of heat in the summer. In a networked geothermal systems, the utility owns and maintains the bore wells that supply the relatively warm water in the winter and the relatively cool water in the summer to buildings in a neighborhood and charges their customers for access to the water using meters. The beauty of this scheme is manifold: it provides a just transition for gas utility workers, it provides a source of greenhouse gas free energy to homes and businesses, by connecting the bore wells for multiple buildings together (especially in mixed used neighborhoods where some buildings might have large refrigeration needs) the themal load can be better balance, and it uses the financing power of a utility to solve the biggest barrier to ground source heat pump systems ... the upfront cost.

Amazingly, two of Massachusetts' gas utilities have started pilot projects. Perhaps more impressively, gas utilities in another 25 states have expressed an interest in also carrying out pilot projects! With this kind of momentum, it is quite possible that HEET that has now grown from a volunteer only operation to having 13 full time employees might be the most effective organization anywhere at decarbonizing buildings in the United States. That said, HEET will continue to focus its efforts in the state of Massachusetts. They see the best strategy for making what they are doing at home spread nationwide is to make the utilities in their successful in their transition so they can act as proof positive that networked geothermal is the way forward for gas utilities. Stay tuned for updates on how those pilot projects are going and where other gas utility pilot projects are going forward.

Fifteen years and a couple of pivots and massive accomplishments, all started by a dedicated group of climate activists in a garage. Congratulations to everyone at HEET for an incredible feat of climate action!


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