Bringing down sky scrapers sky-high carbon footprint with Joselyn Lai from Bedrock

Bringing down sky scrapers sky-high carbon footprint with Joselyn Lai from Bedrock

Introduction (00:00:00)

  • Many skyscrapers still use natural gas for heating and cooling, leading to large carbon footprints.
  • Geothermal heat pumps offer a solution for decarbonizing climate control in buildings.
  • Joselyn Lai, co-founder and CEO of Bedrock Energy, joins the discussion to talk about geothermal systems.

Starting Bedrock Energy (00:01:51)

  • Joselyn Lai met her co-founder, Sylvia Lecue, who had expertise in oil and gas extraction technologies.
  • Lecue saw the potential to redesign these technologies for clean geothermal direct use for heating and cooling.
  • Lai was drawn to the scalability, efficiency, and societal benefits of geothermal heating and cooling.
  • The near-term impact and adoption of clean technologies motivated Lai to enter the field.
  • Geothermal has been gaining attention lately with significant funding rounds and media coverage.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provides incentives that recognize the value of geothermal for society and the economy.
  • Geothermal's clean and baseload nature makes it valuable for the grid and energy systems.
  • The IRA incentivizes various forms of geothermal, including power production and direct use for heating and cooling.

Closed loop vs open loop systems (00:03:59)

  • Bedrock focuses on closed-loop geothermal systems, while other companies construct and install geothermal systems.
  • Bedrock's approach is to use technology to model and maximize the depth of the heat exchange systems while minimizing the space needed.
  • Bedrock's drilling process is faster, more cost-effective, and less risky due to real-time subsurface data collection.
  • Bedrock's closed-loop systems do not interfere with groundwater or inject foreign substances into the ground, making them more scalable and environmentally friendly compared to open-loop systems.
  • Closed-loop systems are geothermal heat exchangers in the ground that use a single pipe that goes down and up the same bore hole, exchanging heat with water flowing through it.
  • Open-loop systems require access to an open body of water, which limits their scalability and can impact wildlife.

Building a customer base (00:08:16)

  • Bedrock's first customers were those interested in more efficient systems, such as the real estate fund, CIM Group, which has a Net Zero goal.
  • Geothermal heating and cooling is attractive to real estate owners because it electrifies HVAC while reducing energy bills, making it valuable for achieving Net Zero or high energy efficiency standards.
  • Another customer profile interested in Bedrock is those with power constraints, such as commercial or industrial assets in high-growth areas where utility power is limited.
  • Bedrock's solution reduces power demand, allowing businesses to have the buildings they need in these areas.
  • Unlike solar or other distributed energy resources, geothermal heating and cooling doesn't need to interconnect with the grid or sell kilowatt-hours back to the grid, simplifying the process.
  • Geothermal systems reduce power demand at peak times, benefiting both the building owner (through cost savings) and the utility (by reducing the need for additional power generation).
  • There is interest from utilities, including ConEd, in large-scale district geothermal systems as a solution for reducing power demand and decarbonizing the grid.

Working with and around utility companies (00:12:50)

  • Geothermal energy can be seen as a non-wired alternative to managing demand, reducing the need for new distribution, transmission, and generation.
  • Some states, like those in the Northeast, need clean heat solutions as heat is a major driver of carbon emissions.
  • Electrifying all heat would strain the grid and disrupt the business models of gas utilities.
  • Utilities can provide clean heat as a new business in the energy transition by owning geothermal heating and cooling networks.
  • Bedrock aims to be the company that enables cost-effective construction of geothermal fields for utilities in the future.
  • Bedrock's core technology is transferable, whether delivering geothermal fields for small buildings, large campuses, or utility-scale systems.
  • The company is looking to scale up to meet the needs of utilities, but not necessarily scale down for single-family homes.
  • Bedrock sees single-family homes as a potential market through partnerships with utilities or towns that are implementing geothermal systems at scale.

Clean jobs for oil and gas workers (00:17:08)

  • Bedrock hires engineers and field operational talent from the oil and gas industry.
  • Oil and gas workers have transferable skills that are valuable in the geothermal heating and cooling industry.
  • The clean energy industry offers stable jobs that are not subject to the feast and famine cycles of the oil and gas industry.
  • Bedrock's pitch to oil and gas workers emphasizes the stability and domestic nature of clean energy jobs.
  • Bedrock receives a good number of applicants for its specialized roles.
  • Testing the technology requires drilling into the ground, which is an expensive proposition.

Decarbonizing the built environment (00:21:24)

  • Bedrock conducted an R&D field trial in Austin, drilling several thousand feet and collecting data to compare their speed advantages to conventional technologies.
  • Their first commercial project was on an occupied office building site, where they drilled in the parking lot while people were working inside.
  • The geothermal heating and cooling system installed in the office building is more efficient than normal HVAC and is considered healthy and sustainable.
  • Joselyn Lai, the founder of Bedrock, always wanted to do things that had a positive social impact.
  • She wrote her senior thesis on regenerative agriculture and later moved into doing startups.
  • She merged her interest in sustainability with her experience in startups to co-found Bedrock, a decarbonization-oriented sustainability startup.
  • Joselyn's interest in sustainability was a constant theme throughout her career.
  • She wanted to use technology to make sustainable solutions more viable, commercializable, and scalable.
  • After gaining experience in several startups, she felt ready to start her own company.
  • She believes there is a moment when one has the energy and drive to try and get something off the ground, and for her, that moment came two years ago.

Fundraising (00:26:30)

  • Bedrock is developing a more efficient and cost-effective way to construct geothermal heat exchangers, making geothermal a viable option for a wider range of real estate properties.
  • Geothermal energy has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the real estate industry.
  • Bedrock aims to make geothermal a financial no-brainer for real estate owners, even without considering energy efficiency or climate benefits.
  • Fundraising for climate-related startups is easier in the early stages due to the high interest in climate solutions.
  • Bedrock is exploring shifting away from equity dollars to balance venture equity with project deployment capital and equipment financing to ease its growth in the future.

Host discussion (00:34:58)

  • Bedrock, a company founded by Joselyn Lai, utilizes geothermal energy to efficiently heat and cool large buildings.
  • The technology, derived from advancements in oil and gas drilling techniques, involves drilling deep boreholes for heat storage in summer and extraction in winter, acting as a large-scale battery.
  • While there are limitations on borehole placement due to efficiency and potential seismic impacts, the potential for reducing carbon emissions in cities is significant.
  • Retrofitting skyscrapers in New York City poses challenges due to space constraints and drilling requirements, and regulations on drilling may vary in different countries.
  • The primary risks for geothermal companies lie in customer acquisition and long-term technology validation.
  • The podcast episode, hosted by Becca Scac and Dominic Madori Davis and produced by Maggie Stamitz, discusses these topics in detail.

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