The residential geothermal heating-and-cooling company Dandelion started partnering with software company Geo-Connections Inc. back in its X “Moonshot Factory” days. Now, several months after Dandelion left the Alphabet mothership, the two companies are making the relationship official.
Dandelion announced on Tuesday it will acquire Geo-Connections, with a vision to streamline the geothermal system design process.
Dandelion has developed a new drilling technique and financing package to make ground-source geothermal projects easier to develop and pay for. With Geo-Connections, it is looking to standardize system design.
“It’s really the automation of the process that we’re looking to supercharge,” said Dandelion Chief Technology Officer James Quazi. “[Geo-Connections has] been thinking about this problem of standardization and automation for the past 10 years. Like any acquisition, it's useful in that it’s...a huge jump-start.”
In the residential geothermal industry, Quazi said there’s a tendency to treat each system like a “unique engineering project,” because of the idiosyncrasies that characterize different homes and sites. Quazi said the years of experience that Geo-Connections' mechanical and software engineers bring to the Dandelion team will be “absolutely critical” in pushing Dandelion’s product into the mainstream.
Engineers have used Geo-Connection’s software in designing tens of thousands of geothermal systems across the U.S. The company's web-accessible “LoopLink” technology uses a software-as-a-service model to make modern geothermal project planning readily accessible to designers. The Geo-Connections software takes the computationally intense process of analyzing a site -- with variables such as soil conditions, average air temperature, a building’s window-to-wall ratio, and various other inputs -- and plugs it into a user-friendly interface.
Without software like LoopLink, Quazi said the industry “uses a patchwork of different tools,” which can be cumbersome and time-consuming.
Ryan Carda, co-founder and president at Geo-Connections (and who will now serve as principal engineer at Dandelion), said it became apparent to both parties that the two would be more powerful as a single team. The union marries a roster of former employees from clean energy powerhouses such as Mosaic, SolarCity and Tesla, which make up the Dandelion team, with years of geothermal experience from Geo-Connections.
Both Carda and Quazi want to make the engineering and design process more affordable and less labor-intensive.
“We hope to be able to improve the reliability of these systems, the efficiency, and at the same time, with the standardization approach, to make them more affordable,” said Carda. “If we’re able to achieve all of these goals, I think the barrier to entry comes down, and we’ll start to see volume and growth in our industry.”
To that end, the two companies will produce a platform under the Dandelion name, which should start rolling out this summer, and transition existing customers to that system if they choose to continue with the service. In the meantime, Geo-Connections software products will remain the same and accessible to customers.
The partnership comes after a year of evolution for Dandelion. The startup spun out of its Alphabet parent in July 2017 to experiment with the commercial viability of its product. While Quazi said X is a good home for long-range technologies that need a lot of research and development -- like self-driving cars -- he said it is time for Dandelion to put the technology in front of customers.
After leaving X, the startup spent the intervening months peddling its systems to homeowners in the Hudson Valley and around Albany, New York. Ultimately Dandelion sold 70 systems and installed a couple dozen with partner Aztech Geothermal Heating & Cooling.
That process helped illuminate points for improvement. Quazi said merging Geo-Connections and Dandelion should help alleviate some of “the painful parts” of scaling up geothermal technology, like quickly creating a consistent system design that’s able to scale reliably.
Over the next year, the startup will focus on expanding its geographic reach and its installer network, said Quazi. Joining with Geo-Connections is a logical progression in the maturation of the geothermal market.
“It really boils down to a shared vision and shared goals for our industry,” said Carda. “Both companies really strive to see widespread adoption of geothermal heat pump technology.”