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Power Earth Google

Google's New Startup Heats Your Home With Energy From Your Lawn (cnn.com) 168

WindBourne shares an article about Google's plans for "an extremely cheap form of HVAC." CNN reports: A new startup called Dandelion, born from the secretive and futuristic lab "X" of Google's parent company Alphabet, says it will offer affordable geothermal heating and cooling systems to homeowners. Existing systems are typically expensive with big upfront installation fees, discouraging homeowners from adopting the technology... Installing the pipes -- called "ground loops" -- under someone's lawn is a traditionally invasive, messy process. It involves using wide drills that dig wells more than 1,000 feet underground. Dandelion's drill is fast and lean, allowing for only one or two deep holes a few inches wide. The system will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to conventional systems priced as high as $60,000.

Geothermal systems are better for the environment because they significantly cut down on carbon dioxide emissions... Buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Most of these emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels to provide the building with heating, cooling and lighting, and to power appliances and electrical equipment.

Google has been studying the potential of geothermal energy since 2011. Dandelion will eventually partner with local companies to handle installations -- and is already accepting sign-ups from customers in New York.
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Google's New Startup Heats Your Home With Energy From Your Lawn

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  • No (Score:5, Informative)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@gmail3.14159.com minus pi> on Sunday July 09, 2017 @02:47AM (#54772461)

    No, not a start-up, a new subsidiary. Stop misusing terms - this has the full backing of Google as a throwaway corporation, it's not five people in a bedroom with a great idea struggling to pay their bills.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2017 @02:53AM (#54772465)

    I suspect that they don't actually mean geothermal in the Icelandic sense but in the "hey, let's use the thermal mass of the earth as the heat reservoir for a heat-pump", where "heat-pump" is basically a reversible air-conditioner (it can move heat in either direction). Most air conditioners use the outside air as the heat resevoir, which is is not terribly good during summer if you're trying to cool. The earth a few feet down soon goes to a relatively constant temperature.

    The problem with ground-source is avoiding locallized heating/cooling in the ground. You either need very heat-conductive ground or lots of contact space.

    Of course, you can also do the same thing with a body of water that doesn't freeze in the winter or get too hot in the summer.

    • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @05:29AM (#54772665)

      Yeah a ground source heatsink is typically a lot more efficient than just a regular air conditioner with a fan using the atmosphere as the heatsink. Plus it also make it possible to heat buildings to room temperature even in cold places like, say, Sweden. I am kinda of curious about the efficiency of Google's proposed solution though. It is not like I haven't heard of people drilling for aquifers before and their solution seems kinda similar.

      • by anegg ( 1390659 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @03:30PM (#54774723)

        Ground source heat pumps have been around in the United States for many years (https://igshpa.org/ [igshpa.org]). I first looked at them in 1996 when I was planning to build a new house, and I looked at them again in 2007 when I needed to replace my failing air source heat pumps that could not be repaired in place because federal energy guidelines had killed the sale of the replacement parts I needed for my 7 year old system. I ended up going with the ground source heat pump to see how it would all work out.

        It's a cool idea (no pun intended) and it works, but has its challenges. The contractors are somewhat specialized, as are the equipment vendors (I used Water Furnace equipment http://www.waterfurnace.com/ [waterfurnace.com]). Similar to air source heat pumps, you have to accept a slower rate of change in your indoor temperature (i.e., you don't get the "ahhh" rapid heat like you do with a fossil-fuel force hot air furnace and you don't seem to get any measurable benefit from cutting back temperatures when you aren't home; I suspect that this is in part due to the challenge of heating/cooling the large thermal mass of your home with a smaller difference in the air temperature).

        It is a huge advantage over air source heat pumps when temperatures fall below freezing; the ground temperature in my area was about 56 degrees F and its a lot easier to pull heat out of liquid at 56 degrees F than air at sub-freezing temperatures; same kind of benefit when cooling in the summer with outside temps in the 90s or 100s. Its a lot quieter than air source heat pumps because you don't have the noisy outside units running just outside your house.

        Its worth looking at and I didn't regret doing it, but take all of the projected savings and especially any claims of "increased equity" in your home with a grain of salt. It was the soft benefits that sold it for me. Oh - to maximize efficiency when cooling and save yourself a few bucks, get an option for domestic hot water... in the summer the heat pump can exchange heat into your hot water reservoir first before dumping it into the ground. Free hot showers (yes, I like my hot showers, even in the summer).

    • by Pax681 ( 1002592 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @06:33AM (#54772743)
      my mothers "granny cottage" has this system for the hot water here in Scotland .
      pipes from the hot water circuit get pumped into the ground pipes and this gets them to about 20C, giving it a "head start" at getting hot.
      This reduces the cost and amount of energy needed to get it to being hot enough for washing/cleaning/heating purposes. The heating is underfloor heating which is also more efficient and cheaper to use
      My mothers previous cottage, same size but cost about £1100 per year in combined gas/electricity unlike her present place which has cost between 350-400 per year for combined gas/electricity.
      That's a big fucking saving people and now it means she can save a bit more and have an extra holiday per year... these systems are well worth it and when i am looking to a new place i am going to make sure it's got a similar set up to my mothers!
      • by Pax681 ( 1002592 )
        just to add.. my mothers present place is AAA+ energy saving rated. it's triple glazed, underfloor heating, geothermal water loop.
        you are not tapping into a subterranean water source.. you and pumping the water through an enclosed loop , a circuit of water from the home to the pipes in the ground and back into your house....
      • My mothers previous cottage, same size but cost about £1100 per year in combined gas/electricity unlike her present place which has cost between 350-400 per year for combined gas/electricity. That's a big fucking saving people and now it means she can save a bit more and have an extra holiday per year... these systems are well worth it and when i am looking to a new place i am going to make sure it's got a similar set up to my mothers!

        Exactly. I spend per year what most of the neighbors spend per month on heating during the heating season. And I keep the house at a higher temperature. Even with a efficient hot tub, I spend only 10 percent more on electric than my neighbor who is only home about 4 days a month and has no amenities - our electric company tells us what our bill is compared to our neighbors percentage wise.

        Every energy saving device has saved us money over and above installation costs. And life has been more comfortable.

    • Easy fix. Get some bull ants to colonise your lawn and then pour some molten aluminium down it. Then you're lawn will be very heat conductive!
  • by geoff_syndicate ( 863418 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @02:55AM (#54772467) Homepage
    What's the point of heating if it goes straight out a poorly insulated wall or roof? Follow the passive house standard and you won't even need extra heating.
    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @03:14AM (#54772485) Journal
      That's actually the advice (honest) installers here will give you: insulate walls, roof, floor, and get that triple glazing filled with unicorn farts first, before spending money on a geothermal system. It's more cost-effective. But depending on your climate, you're still likely to need heating and/or cooling.

      Still it's good news if they can really cut costs for such a system by that much. If you don't have natural gas (and that's the way we're going here), geothermal heating is by far the best option.
      • The problem is in the retrofit. Replacing windows and insulating roofs is one thing. Insulating walls is quite another on many house designs.

      • Ground-sourced HP replaces heating AND AC. With most homes in America, we pay a great deal more for cooling than heating. In large part, that is because AC is so inefficient, it requires much larger ondemand systems for the summer. If all homes had ground-sourced HP then electric demand for HVAC would change very minor over the seasons.
      • and get that triple glazing filled with unicorn farts first,.

        TIL unicorns fart noble gasses.

      • That's actually the advice (honest) installers here will give you: insulate walls, roof, floor, and get that triple glazing filled with unicorn farts first, before spending money on a geothermal system. It's more cost-effective. But depending on your climate, you're still likely to need heating and/or cooling. Like you said - it depends on the location. But you are spot on about the insulation. The previous owners had insulated the house well, and I added some more insulation to the attic. The trick is not getting it sealed too well. I also have oddball windows that are very deep and seem to offer really good insulation value.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 09, 2017 @02:55AM (#54772469)

    What we do is we create rectangular holes in your house, then we put glass in the holes, and then you can use the heat from the sun to heat up your house!

    We have already been granted a patent for this, back in 2007, and it is called "Windows 9". We have also sued everyone that has infringed upon our patent, including Microsoft. Ever wonder why there wasn't a Windows version 9?

    Now you know.

    • by WallyL ( 4154209 )

      The reason for this number, is because if you have 2 vertical lines, and 2 horizontal lines, in the Window (TM), you will have 9 separate panels. Just imagine the UI possibilities with nine (9) Window (TM) panels! Each panel could have slightly different UIs to suit each and every customer use case, and all at the same time!

  • by grungeman ( 590547 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @03:25AM (#54772497)
    is that this only makes sense for very wll insulated housed. The efficiency of heat pump systems decreases with the output temperature. In old houses you need a high output temperature due to all the heat loss, which means that the efficiency is low. For well insulated houses a much lower output temperature is necessary, so not only is there less energy required for heating, it is also produced much more efficiently.

    We have a ground heat pump installed in our house (which was built seven years ago). There are three holes, each 90m deep. The heat pump is of course driven by electricity, which then extracts about 3 to four times the heat energy from the ground. Basically you can think of it as an amplified electric heating. Installation cost is relatively high (especially compared to gas heating), but running costs are much lower.

    And it would be a great system to store excess solar or wind energy, provided that large enough tanks for the heated water are installed.
    • +1 But to be fair, it doesn't make sense to update *any* HVAC system before insulating the house. Plus, it's usually cheaper to insulate the roof, top-floor or windows than to install a new heat pump or pellet boiler.

    • Not so. U can install a geothermal HP to a poorly insulated house with no problem, and it will have it just fine iff you design it right. Basically, it requires a much larger unit with more holes drilled. Iow, u can put the money into inexpensive insulation, OR into relatively expensive HVAC. So, u are better off having decent insulation, combined with a properly sized geothermal HP.
    • You can store excess heat in a water tank, but you need a lot of water. I remember seeing an experimental house built around a 50-ton water tank a few decades ago.

      But with a geothermal system, you can store heat without needing a tank [wikipedia.org]: basically you warm up the ground around the well during the summer, and draw heat from it during the winter.
      This makes the geothermal installation more sustainable. Without warming up the ground, you'd eventually (in a few decades) end up with the entire area around your heat

      • by Chas ( 5144 )

        It's also an excellent argument for an indoor, heated pool...

        And maybe even a hot tub.

    • It makes most sense for any home where a heat pump might already be an option, places where AC efficiency struggles with very high temps or a heat pump struggles when its very cold.

      However, this statement from the summary is stupid;

      Geothermal systems are better for the environment because they significantly cut down on carbon dioxide emissions... Buildings are responsible for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.,

      Air conditioners and heat pumps don't emit CO2, nor do electric heat strips, nor is all that emission amount due to heating and cooling. Simply saying they are more efficient would have been sufficient.

      • Air conditioners and heat pumps don't emit CO2, nor do electric heat strips,
        But the power plants producing the electricity do.
        So why are you nitpicking?

        • Not all the power plants. But you are right. These units would also use electricity from the same CO2 producing plants, a little bit less for most of the time, more when extreme temperatures are reached. But regardless, the summary said the CO2 comes from the buildings, mostly that would be from gas, wood, or oil burning.
          • But regardless, the summary said the CO2 comes from the buildings, mostly that would be from gas, wood, or oil burning.
            So an electricity driven heat pump will safe CO2. Or not? Probably I missed your point.

  • The Google "secret sauce" in this seems to be a "special" drill for putting in the wells for the ground loops.

    In the the videos I've seen of this, the drill looks to be about 18 inches in diameter. this seems to claim a smaller diameter drill.

    The primary reason people tend to not use heat pumps is they are electric and electricity from the utility is expensive. very cheap renewables (wind/solar) is what is required for this to be feasible.

    • Actually, the reason for not using heat pumps for heating was that air-sourced HP was cheap, but inefficient in most parts of the nation, while ground-sourced is expensive, but extremely efficient. However, an AC unit is nothing more than a one way air-sourced HP , so is very inefficient when pumping heat up a 30-40f gradient (72f to 102f). But if pumping it down from 72 F to 62f, it is dirt cheap. Likewise, come winter, pumping heat from 58F to 68F is again dirt cheap with even a basic heat pump.
    • Why does it have to be wind and solar to make heat pumps feasible? Why won't other energy sources do?

      Also, wind and solar have an area problem, well laid out by the late Dr. MacKay.
      https://www.ted.com/talks/davi... [ted.com]

      The video is nearly 20 minutes but worth every minute. I'll highlight what I mean on the "area problem". Energy consumption and production can be compared by density, as in power over area. Developed nations like much of Europe consume energy at a rate of about 1 watt per square meter. Compar

      • nuclear has a long term waste problem... We have NO clue about solutions for that (keep out signs that will be understandable for millennia?)

        • (keep out signs that will be understandable for millennia?)

          I remember reading an article long ago in some science magazine about a bunch of linguists getting together to address the very issue you raised. I remembered it because it seemed so fascinating that people could conceive some kind of language that could be understood for thousands of years. What would this look like? Some sort of Egyptian hieroglyphics? Would they create a kind of Rosetta Stone with all known major languages of the time to aid in translation?

          Then I found out later it was all a bunch of

  • Japanese $5-8k VRF systems beat geothermal heat pumps hands down =>

    VRF heat pump

    $5k 1:2.5 pump ratio throught the year

  • Heating our homes won't be a big problem for much longer.
  • A bit steep IMO (Score:5, Informative)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Sunday July 09, 2017 @04:50AM (#54772593)

    In Europe such systems are much more common and prices much lower than the ones proposed here.
    I included a link (in German) where such systems cost between 10 and 12000€ for a system getting the heat out of the air, out of the soil or out from the ground water.
    The latter depending on local regulations, since it's impossible for everyone in a street to cool down the ground water, so they have to be a bit more apart, usually around 300 Meters.

    http://www.erdwaermepumpe.de/k... [erdwaermepumpe.de]

    • Your prices are for a pump without a new heat source - air, existing well, existing ground water.

      The Dandelion project is for installing a new heat source. The old method is to drill a new well (works OK) or to remove an entire lawn below the frost line (ideally, during new construction before the lawn is put in) and then lay down about 3000' (typical home) of coiled PEX to circulate the heat-transfer/antifreeze solution through.

      I'm not sure if this is the same as an existing system that uses copper "branc

      • I don't know where they get $60k for the current cost which is shown in the summary. I've looked into it for my current house in the suburbs. My yard isn't big enough to lay the loops out below the frost line so I'd have to drill holes and I was only looking at $30k to $40k. Maybe they looking at the case at having someone come out of the city a fair distance.

        I'd really like to get rid of natural gas. Not just for the environmental reasons. They charge $20 a month just to be a customer. It doesn't matter if

        • by skids ( 119237 )

          Well, you also pay distribution charges for the electricity network, just... you need electricity for other stuff anyway so yeah, not having multiple networks terminating at your house would be less expensive. Of course, then you have to worry about the heat going out when there's a power outage.

          • There's the customer charge of $20 a month, the distribution charge from the company based on your consumption, and then the charge for the natural gas consumed which I can get from another supplier. But if I turn off the furnace and hot water heater and make sure that the pilot lights (if they have one) stay off I still pay $20 that month. Just for the privilege of being a customer. For my electricity that's bundled in with the distribution charge.

            Say a sinkhole opens up near my home and it takes a just o

    • Read carefully:

      The system will cost between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to conventional systems priced as high as $60,000.

      Note they're comparing to conventional systems "priced as high as $60,000." In other words it's a useless marketing comparison designed to trick you into thinking the alternative is expensive by comparing an average price to the highest price you'll ever see.

      The $20k-$25k is for a typical U.S. home which is nearly 2700 square feet [aei.org] (250 m^2). Average home size in Germany is about [howtogermany.com]

      • Neither is the average home size in Germany 160sqm nor is the average home size in the US 250sqm.

        No idea where you get such absurd numbers from.

    • well first off, Germany is a different area than America is.
      Your temps are fairly mild. I grew up on ill/wisc border where we saw temps of -40C up to 40C (and that did not include the humidity; uggh).
      So, to HVAC an OLDER home that has poor insulation, you either spend 50-100K re-doing the insulation, OR you spend maybe 10K on windows/insulation, and then switch to decent amount of geo-thermal units. Some of these places will take 10-15 kw of HVAC. Even by your prices, that will be EXPENSIVE. Heck, acco
    • Agreed, the quoted prices in the summary looked insane expensive.

  • Trying to come up with a cheaper way of doing the ground loop system is an excellent idea. Most of the cost is in drilling from what I was told by an installer who does those. This is something Elon Musk should have focused on instead of the Boring company. I have thought that ever since reading about the Boring company that they should have focused on ground loops. More chance for a return on investment instead that could then lead to those bigger dreams.

    Next step solve the insulation problem. Figure

  • So they're basically putting their monitoring hardware and apps into your house, and mining the data for all they're worth.
    Tie it into Google Assistant and you basically have volunteered to bug your own home to the point where they know every last little detail of your private life.

    Yeah. No thanks. I'd rather go with a more traditional provider where *I* can control what sort of data leaves my premises. If any.

  • so, how many of these will be installed before we discover the consequences of greatly increasing seasonal temperature changes in and near bedrock ?
    • none. This is heat that is in the ground and works its way upwards. By storing heat in the summer, and then pulling it back out in the winter, it MIGHT see a slight lowering of the ground temp over a 50 year period, though that is doubtful. In addition, it would have to be with homes stacked one on top of the other.
      • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
        it's not about more or less heat in the ground, it's about the speed of the seasonal changes, in particular in areas with a large number of installations that are not evenly distributed. maybe the difference is insignificant, maybe it is not insignificant, the question is, has it been evaluated at all.
  • by lfp98 ( 740073 ) on Sunday July 09, 2017 @07:36AM (#54772885)
    OK, so they save some money by using thinner boreholes, but how? The width of the boreholes is determined by the need to insert a loop of 2 pipes with big enough diameter to handle the coolant. If you decrease the pipe size, the resistance increases dramatically and pretty soon you're so much energy to pump it you're not saving anything. Maybe they are running the refrigerant directly into the loops, instead of water/methanol as is typical, but that's just a guess. In any case, you're not going to save $35,000 on the wells. We put in geothermal 2 years ago, I researched it pretty thoroughly and I've never heard of a system costing $60,000, so that's just a wild exaggeration. The estimates for our house ranged $31,000-36,000 and it's pretty rare for a system to top $45,000. I've never heard of anyone with 1000-ft deep wells, either. We have two 360-ft wells (although the house is small ~1500 sf). In the end, I acted as my own contractor. I paid the driller $14,000 to put in the loops, bought a heat pump on ebay, and paid a plumber to link it to the existing cast iron radiators, so no messing with the ductwork. Total cost was ~$21,000, or ~$15,000 after the (now expired) tax credit. But my point is, the loops aren't the only reason these systems are expensive. The fancy heat pumps they typically use are pretty pricey, especially after a nice markup by the HVAC contractor. If alterations to the ductwork are necessary, that's a lot of expensive labor. If Dandelion can do it cheaper, great, but I remain skeptical of how much they can save just by making the wells thinner.
    • First off, I live in Colorado.
      And Like you, I have been dealing with geothermal for a LONG time.
      Why? Because it is very efficient and cheap to run. However, I have heard of these costing up to $50,000 in the Denver Basin. Namely in the city here in small yards/large house. And yes, we have California style building here.
      Dandilions approach is not the small size, but the way that they drill it. They spent a lot of time trying to come up with a cheap way to drill. It appears that they combined drilling
  • ... wide drills that dig wells more than 1,000 feet underground.

    Since when? I've read about ground loops buried horizontally about two meters below the surface that are very effective. Temp year round – even in cold climates – is a constant 10C (50F).

    And stop calling it geothermal.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      And stop calling it geothermal.

      If you're going to complain, you might want to mention the correct term is "geoexchange".

  • In my neck of the woods. The last ice age, pretty much stopped in our neck of the woods. You should see the problem with building anything around here. Drill a few feet down and you hit nothing but rock. About the only black dirt you have around here is near rivers. Otherwise, it's mostly red dirt/rock.
  • I don't know why google's money men backed this venture, it's a complete non starter. Here's the reason : for several years now, you've been able to purchase 30+ SEER rating (30 EER) mini splits anytime you want, for between $1300-$1800 per packaged system. With installation that's $2500 to $3k. So with installation, you would need 3-4 for a normal sized house, or about $10k cost.

    Look here : for closed loop geothermals, 30 EER is equal or better performance to every geothermal system you can buy : https: [energystar.gov]

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