Dandelion workers abreast a arroyo for geothermal loops in Garrison, New York.
For three nights in December 2019, aback the temperature in Katonah, New York alone beneath 20 degrees, Subbaiah Maneyapanda and his wife lugged amplitude heaters and a added mattress into their bedchamber for their two daughters, 10 and 7, while cuddling their 2-year-old son in their own bed. Nine months earlier, Maneyapanda had active a arrangement with Dandelion Energy, a aftereffect of Google-parent Alphabet, for a geothermal arrangement that uses the temperature of the apple at atomic 300 anxiety beneath arena to calefaction and air-conditioned homes. Dandelion installed one of its units in the summer and said assignment for the added attic would be accomplished in the aboriginal fall. Expecting the arrangement would be ready, Maneyapanda didn’t pay for addition commitment of heating oil. But by December, the assignment still wasn’t done, and the calefaction was off. “It was absolutely a bit of affliction for us,” he says.
Maneyapanda is one of 20 barter in New York who told Forbes about problems during the accession or aliment of Dandelion’s geothermal units, including continued timelines, abruptness costs, abrupt amercement and after-effects that larboard genitalia of their homes algid or noisy. Though the aggregation offered to pay for a auberge for Maneyapanda’s ancestors as it completed the job, they absitively it was beneath confusing to aloof array in. “We’d been cat-and-mouse for months already,” he says. “Dandelion needs to get their act together.”
When the New York City-based startup spun out of Alphabet technology incubator X in 2017, it was advised one of the apple-pie activity vanguard, positioned to administer the addition and calibration of its ancestor to a concrete challenge: application geothermal activity to calefaction and air-conditioned homes. Silicon Valley investors including New Action Associates, Alphabet adventure armamentarium GV, and Comcast Ventures backed its affiance of bringing its deposit fuel-free technology into millions of houses, for bisected the bulk of acceptable geothermal. The aggregation raised $35 million, including $12 actor in January at a $110 actor valuation.
In the about three years aback Dandelion larboard Alphabet’s fold, however, its ambitions accept hit cogent roadblocks. While abounding of the about two dozen barter who batten to Forbes said they were blessed already their systems were running, about all call an accession action bedeviled with problems, alignment from the annoying (never alive aback a subcontractor would appearance up in one’s yard) to the severe, such as conduct that larboard foundations cracked. Some were abashed aback the bulk concluded up bags of dollars college than Dandelion initially quoted, while others acquainted sales reps glossed over the calamity to their yards. In two of the best arrant cases, barter accept assassin attorneys to admonish them as they action their claims.
“As a above Googler myself, I was aflame to see an X spinout piloted in my neighborhood,” says Joe Rosenberg, a Dandelion chump in Waccabuc, New York. Not anymore. Rosenberg, a administrator at Google for about eight years until 2018, says he had to action Dandelion to abstain advantageous $10,000 added than the bulk in his arrangement for added work. What’s more, he claims that his system, installed in August, still isn’t alive properly, abrogation some apartment arctic and his daughter’s so blatant that she’s accepting agitation sleeping. He’s banned to complete his acquittal to Dandelion until it commits to acclimation his problems, including $22,000 in amercement to agriculture and his home. Dandelion, in turn, has put a affirmation on his house.
Dandelion cofounder Kathy Hannun, who alone the CEO role in January, says the blooming activity outfit’s alpha in Google’s addition lab “formed the aboriginal DNA” of the company.
Dandelion beneath to animadversion on Rosenberg’s case or that of any added specific customer, but says it takes albatross whenever they aren’t annoyed and tries “to accomplish it right.” Cofounder Kathy Hannun insists best of its 350 barter are blessed with its assignment (70% of 91 Dandelion projects surveyed by New York’s activity analysis bureau over 13 months accustomed its accomplished rating), but concedes the aggregation has had to accomplish changes.
“These homeowners are aboriginal adopters: what we’ve abstruse from them has fabricated it accessible for us to calibration this business as bound as we are—we’ve developed 5x [in revenue] year-over-year,” says Hannun. “It doesn’t absolutely break their experience, but that’s what I would action them.”
Hannun, who gave up the CEO role in January to focus on artefact development as the company’s president, started her career at Google. In 2010, a year afterwards she accelerating from Stanford University with a bulk in civilian engineering, Hannun abutting X, the company’s secretive, again newly-launched technology incubator that would advance affected projects like self-driving cars and balloons to affix alien villages to the Internet. She formed her way up to become a activity administrator who pushed advanced the best able new ideas, and in 2014, she spearheaded an accomplishment to accomplish ammunition out of seawater. Afterwards Google shut that down, she teamed up with staffers James Quazi and Bob Wyman (who is currently active for Congress in New York) on addition blooming initiative: geothermal heating.
While bodies accept been application activity from the apple to balmy their baths aback the Stone Age, the avant-garde methods for harnessing the “heat beneath your feet” alone emerged in the aftermost century. The arrangement involves installing U-shaped pipes hundreds of anxiety beneath arena to tap into the changeless 50 bulk to 60 bulk temperature of the earth. These pipes are abounding with aqueous and affiliated to a abrasion machine-sized air pump central the house. They blot amore from the arena in the winter, which the pump pushes through the house. In the summer, the pipes banish calefaction from the home aback into the ground. The technology has taken off in nations that accept had oil shortages or mandates to cut bottomward on carbon emissions, like Sweden, area about 20% of barrio use some anatomy of ground-source calefaction pump.
In the United States, geothermal heating has been a binding option, accepted by green-minded homeowners who can absorb the aerial price-tag. Hannun and her aggregation aimed to change all that. They’d acquaint their own technology — a custom assignment for installing the arena loops and its own calefaction pump — that would complete the assignment faster, with beneath mess, for a lower cost. Dandelion would allegation amid $20,000 and $25,000 upfront, or what it claimed was about bisected the bulk of acceptable installers, and action costs that would let barter pay over 20 years.
After two years tinkering aural X, Dandelion spun out as an absolute aggregation in May 2017, again aloft $2 actor in berry allotment that July. Though it hadn’t completed its assignment and pump technology, the aggregation generated affluence of columnist alarum and began targeting barter in New York state, area abounding association await on oil or accustomed gas.
“They’re demography out the upfront angst,” says Daniel Kammen, an activity assistant at the University of California, Berkeley who is accustomed with Dandelion’s pitch. “It’s this antecedent of admonition technology and activity technology.”
Dandelion completed its aboriginal activity for a brace of ecology activists in Canaan, New York in September 2017, acting as the financier while subcontracting with a bounded geothermal business to handle the job. It started rapidly signing up customers, authoritative deals with added bounded installers to complete the work. The timing was fortunate: federal tax incentives had started to accommodate bags of dollars of blooming activity discounts.
As its cardinal of affairs swelled through New York’s Hudson Valley and beyond, however, barter were accusatory of adulterated and abiding installations. With so abounding subcontractors, scheduling was a mess.
‘Unlike with software, you can’t artlessly advance an amend to fix bugs from a beta release’
“The chump delay times were best than we wanted,” Hannun admits. “We didn’t accept absolute ascendancy over every allotment of the chump experience, and we were slower to learn—our insights about the action were a footfall removed.” By July 2018, the aggregation absitively it bare to body up its centralized acreage teams.
That meant Dandelion had to buy equipment, get canton licenses, and appoint and alternation bodies to install geothermal systems. Change has been slow. Of the Dandelion barter who batten to Forbes, fifteen said that they’ve faced delayed schedules, accession errors, abrupt costs or artefact breakdowns aural the aftermost year.
“I fabricated the aberration of cerebration they were added organized and bigger than they were,” says Paul Kuszynski, a Dandelion chump in South Salem, New York.
In the fall, as Dandelion was conduct to install its pipes and digging a arroyo to affix his house, workers hit his catchbasin cesspool field, admitting warnings to abstain it, he says. Again they took out a admonition line, acid off buzz and internet account in the neighborhood. “I am absolutely aghast in how this all transpired,” Kuszynski emailed Hannun in November, “and the bulk of assignment as a chump I had to do to get to the accuracy of the issues that arose.” Once the activity finished, he got addition surprise: a January electric bill four times college than usual. Dandelion arch technology administrator Quazi came to his abode to acclimatize the system, Kuszynski says. The aggregation now warns its arrangement can account electric costs to quadruple in the winter; it ahead aloof compared the added electricity acceptance to a refrigerator.
“There accept been barter area the expectations were not set right,” says Keith Bell, buyer of Bell Heating & Air Conditioning in Mahopac, New York. He has installed geothermal calefaction pumps in added than 250 homes, including added than 50 jobs for Dandelion.
Google cofounder Sergey Brin, at a May 2015 self-driving cars event, helped set up the evolution lab accepted as X to accompany beginning projects like Dandelion.
Such was the case with Oscar Cabral in Brewster, New York. “It’s been a headache,” he says. Rescheduling and delays abject his project’s end date from November 2019 into the new year. Again the sticker shock. Dandelion added bags of dollars in abrupt costs, he says, and approved to allegation him added for assignment that he believed was covered in his contract. Addition gripe: aback his foundation absurd during the drilling, Dandelion said it wasn’t at fault. In February, his arrangement didn’t canyon a bounded inspection. “Overall, it’s been a abhorrent experience,” he says. “I wouldn’t acclaim Dandelion to anyone.”
To some, Dandelion was proving that Silicon Valley’s coder ethos—experiment, release, fix, repeat—can run into agitation in the concrete world. Google abstruse this assignment with projects like Fiber. In 2016 it bargain the ambit of the vaunted accelerated internet business afterwards the time and bulk of disturbing up streets to lay cable accepted too steep. Beforehand this year, it shut bottomward Makani, a moonshot accomplishment to accomplish behemothic kites to accouter wind energy. “Unlike with software, you can’t artlessly advance an amend to fix bugs from a beta release,” says above Google agent Rosenberg of his afflicted installation. He blames Dandelion’s issues, in part, on a “venture-backed advance for accelerated scale.”
That adventure money gives it added time to get it right. Dandelion’s new CEO Michael Sachse, who abutting the aggregation in January afterwards alive in action software, predicts the aggregation has 18 months of aerodrome acknowledgment to its new allotment round. “We accept been alive to ascertain the job that Dandelion is best ill-fitted to serve, and again ascertain the processes that acquiesce us to serve that job anxiously and predictably,” he says.
It’s had to decline its sales angle as it works through those kinks and the technology that was declared to lower costs. It alone launched its custom assignment aftermost summer, still alone application it for assertive jobs, and sometimes installs a Bosch arrangement instead of its own calefaction pump. As for costs, in 2017, Dandelion advertised its arrangement would bulk bisected of what added installers charge. Now, Sachse says the bulk is two-thirds. Interviews with New York competitors appearance that alike that could be an exaggeration; bristles listed prices in band with Dandelion’s.
For now, this Google moonshot’s ideal chump may still be addition that cares added about the ambition of abbreviation their carbon brand than the action appropriate to get there. In added words, bodies like Tim Owens, a self-described “crunchy granola” chump in Niskayuna, New York. He loves his Dandelion system, but credits his longtime absorption in geothermal for allowance him abide calm during his accession amid September 2018 and July 2019.
“When they came in and things got busted up, I was patient,” he says.“I didn’t bawl and scream, I said, ‘C’mon, let’s get this working.’ Because ultimately their success is everyone’s success.”
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