Apr 1 • 1HR 6M

Volts podcast: Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi on how to replace natural gas with renewable heat

Ground-source heat pump district heating everywhere!

David Roberts
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Volts is a podcast about leaving fossil fuels behind. I've been reporting on and explaining clean-energy topics for almost 20 years, and I love talking to politicians, analysts, innovators, and activists about the latest progress in the world's most important fight. (Volts is entirely subscriber-supported. Sign up!)
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As I said in the previous episode, I’m doing a series of podcasts on clever ways to rapidly and substantially reduce demand for oil and gas — if not for the climate, then at least to reduce dependence on Russia.

Today we’re talking about heat. Specifically, we’re talking about the nearly half of US homes that are heated by natural gas, the natural gas utilities that supply it, and what those utilities might be able to do instead of pumping an explosive fossil fuel beneath American streets.

Today’s guests have developed a visionary solution for for America’s sprawling natural gas infrastructure. In short, they want to replace it with “networked geothermal,” water pipes that carry heat harvested from the ground. It’s called the GeoGrid, developed by the HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) Coalition, run by Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi.

Audrey Schulman & Zeyneb Magavi

Schulman is a long-time activist and policy entrepreneur (and novelist!); Magavi is a researcher and guest lecturer at the Harvard School of Public Health (and karate black belt!). Together, they have spent years researching, developing, and evangelizing for the GeoGrid. They have done statewide feasibility studies (in their home state of Massachusetts), hosted design charrettes and community meetings, and had endless consultations with utilities. They have often been ignored or dismissed by the old boys network in the energy world, but they have persisted, and their idea is now being put into place, with extremely promising results.

The technology is not new or untested — many college campuses are heated with ground-source heat pumps — but HEET has got utilities thinking about it in a more systemic way, planning how to build geogrids targeted to best avoid spending on additional natural gas infrastructure.

I’m excited to talk to Schulman and Magavi about why something like geogrids are needed, how they are designed and constructed, and where we might see them being built in coming years.