Deep Dialogues and Expert Series

Expert Series – 8/15/23
Residential Heat Pump Retrofits

with Senator Brownsberger

Senator Brownsberger shared his latest findings and conclusions from his intensive investigation into the real-world needs and challenges for implementing heat pumps at a sufficient scale to meet the Commonwealth’s carbon reduction goals.

Will Brownsberger is the State Senator for the Suffolk and Middlesex District representing Allston, Brighton, Watertown, Belmont, Fenway, and West Cambridge, and is President Pro Tempore of the Senate as a member of the Senate President’s leadership team. He did a deep energy retrofit of his home and last year did a full conversion of its heating system to electric heat pumps. Senator Brownsberger maintains an extensive guide to his findings and analysis of heat pump here.

The presentation is insightful.  Senator Brownsberger is candid about our current progress and the challenges we face.  Participants shared their thoughts and asked tough questions which the Senator responded to frankly and honestly.

The video of the presentation is here and Senator Brownsberger’s presentation is here.

Deep Dialogue 7/31/23
Reducing Air Travel

This Deep Dialogue will help you sort through the complicated scientific and personal issues raised by air travel. If you’ve ever felt conflicted about flying due to its heat impact, you are not alone!  Most of us know that air travel is bad for the climate: between airplanes’ CO2 emissions and other heating effects caused by pollution at high altitudes, air travel accounts for upwards of 5-6% of planetary heating. More harmful than driving, flying is the fastest way, hour for hour, to heat the planet.   And air travel has major equity implications. For example in the US, 68 percent of all flights are taken by the 12 percent of the population who fly six or more times per year. But many of us have also reached our “golden years” with culturally-induced expectations of flying to visit children, grandchildren, friends — and bucket list destinations!


What to do about this inconvenient truth? First, we need to talk about it openly and honestly, without shaming, which is what this Deep Dialogue accomplishes. The presenters are:

  • Dan Castrigano, Organizer at Flight Free USA. Dan will discuss the climate impact of air travel and how we can mitigate some of those harms.
  • Professor Marianne Krasny, Department of Natural Resources, Cornell, and author of In This Together: Connecting with your Community to Combat the Climate Crisis. Marianne will talk about how our own ordinary acts can influence and inspire collective and widespread change.

Presentations are followed by a lively Q and A, and discussion.

The video for the presentation is here. The presentation slides are here.

Deep Dialogue – 6/26/23 – Grid Level Storage with Roy Harvey

As more of our electricity is sourced from wind and solar, we know there will be times when the output from these sources will not meet our demand for electricity.  This will happen during periods of overcast skies, low wind, or times of very high demand such as will occur in winter during cold snaps when most buildings are electrified.

During these times, there needs to be a source of clean electricity to fill in the gaps.  Storage is seen as the prime candidate to fulfill this role.  But how much storage will be needed?  How much will it cost?  What are the tradeoffs and what storage technology is suitable?

Roy Harvey, a member of our research team and retired electrical engineer, addresses these questions and more. The slides from the presentation are here and video is here.

Expert Series – 5/23/23
Networked Geothermal Systems

with Audrey Schulman and John Ciovacco

Networked Geothermal systems are an innovative solution to heat and cool buildings in a safe, non-emitting, and affordable way. Instead of natural gas, networked geothermal uses interconnected ground source heat pumps. The system connects buildings with different heating and cooling needs, improving the overall system efficiency for all the connected buildings. This model is already becoming a reality. Eversource Gas and National Grid, two of the largest utilities in Massachusetts, have received permission to build a total of five demonstration projects. Seven other gas utilities and 12 states are now looking into moving forward with their own networked geothermal projects.

John P. Ciovacco, the President of Aztech Geothermal, LLC received his B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Union College. John chairs the educational sessions at NY-GEO’s annual heat pump conference, which is widely regarded as the largest and most comprehensive in the Northeastern US. His company, Aztech Geothermal, has designed and installed hundreds of residential and commercial ground source heat pump systems since the early 2000’s. Aztech is involved in over 15 District / Networked Geothermal projects in the Northeast, several of them involving regulated gas and electric utilities.

Audrey Schulman, HEET Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, is a A lover of maps, she created the first-in-the-nation statewide zoomable public map of utility-reported gas leaks. Together with Zeyneb Magavi, she has developed HEET’s innovative solution to transition gas utilities from gas to networked geothermal, or systems of networked ground source heat pumps. There are several gas utilities now installing thermal networks in Massachusetts and New York. Schulman is also the author of six novels, which have been translated into 12 languages and reviewed by The New Yorker, The Economist and CNN.

Click here for the video of the presentation and discussion
Click here for Audrey’s slides.

Deep Dialogue – 5/22/23
Health Impacts of Air Pollution from Transportation

Rashid Shaikh is a scientist who lives in Cambridge. In 2000, he retired from working as the director for science at the Health Effects Institute. Previously, he worked as the director for science at the Health Effects Institute, an independent non-profit organization, jointly funded by the EPA and the auto manufacturers, which has provided some of the most critical science to inform air pollution policies in the US and abroad. His presentation, titled “Air Pollution and Climate Change: A Tale of Twin Challenges,” focuses on the effects and magnitude of air pollution on human health, the impact of regulations, and the disproportionate burden on EJ and underserved communities from mobile sources. He also discusses the (major) contribution of the transportation sector to GHG emissions and the co- benefits of policies to address climate change.

Click here for the video of the presentation.
Click here for the slides from the presentation.

Deep Dialogue – 4/17/23 – Offshore wind with Tony Rogers

Massachusetts has mandated that we have 5.6 GW of offshore wind power under contract by mid-2027. Does this mean we can now move on to the next challenge? Commitments to offshore wind up and down the eastern seaboard herald the beginning of the offshore wind industry in the US, but do we have the manufacturing plants, the supply chain, the workforce, the installation vessels and the transmission lines that we will need? This presentation provides insights into these questions. It covered the basics of why offshore wind power is so important, what it takes to get an offshore wind power project permitted and built, and the challenges facing the state and project developers that need to be addressed to translate our offshore wind power commitments into power flowing into the New England grid.

Tony Rogers was a researcher in the UMass Wind Energy Center for many years, co-wrote a book on wind turbine design and engineering, was the lead technical author of the state’s successful proposal for the Wind Technology Testing Center in Charlestown MA, and worked for an international wind energy consulting firm for seven years.

The slides for the presentation are here and the video is here.

Deep Dialogue – 3/27/23 – Sustainability at McDonald’s with Elaine Strunk

Elaine Strunk, Senior Director for Global Sustainability-Food and Planet Impact at MacDonald’s Corporation speaks about the corporation’s environmental goals and progress made toward achieving those goals.  She notes the scope of MacDonald’s business operations: 38,000 restaurants, mostly franchises, in over 100 countries and the supply chains that serve these businesses.  This means that MacDonald’s actions have major impacts globally.  She describes science-based climate initiatives in a broad range of areas.  Among these are reducing emissions in the restaurant buildings and efforts to minimize waste in packaging, especially reducing single-use or hard to recycle plastics and other materials.  She notes problems encountered in these efforts, including customer preferences for less green products such as plastic straws and Styrofoam.  Other areas include making transportation more efficient to minimize emissions and reusing or recycling fry oil and cardboard. She discusses efforts to eliminate deforestation in sourcing core items such as beef, oil and other agricultural products and to encourage regenerative farming.

The presentation gives insight into how this large corporation seeks to become greener, while also dealing with customer reaction to changes in MacDonald’s products and cultural differences in many different countries or regions within the U.S.  Elaine notes working with many organizations and other corporations to define and implement better environmental practices.  She also noted that legislation on issues such as banning the use of Styrofoam packaging would make it easier to implement better practices by reducing competition with other companies.

In addition to Elaine’s formal presentation there are informative exchanges based on numerous questions from the audience. Watch the video here.

Expert Series – 2/28/23 – Grid governance with Phil Hanser

In the final installment of the grid series, Phil Hanser returned to present the evolution of the grid and grid governance which led to the deregulation of the utilities and the formation of RTOs such as ISO-NE.  Phil discussed the various electric markets and the participants in these markets.  During the presentation, Phil paused for thought provoking questions from meeting participants.

With over forty years’ experience in the industry, Phil Hanser is an expert in the energy industry – including principal emeritus of the Brattle Group and serving as an expert witness with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). 

The video for the presentation is here and the slides are here.

Deep Dialogue – 2/27/23 – Decarbonization Strategies for Large Commercial Building with Michael Gevelber

Existing commercial buildings offers significant potential on climate action.  But existing large buildings have special considerations due to the need to meet the building constraints of their HVAC systems, particularly in northern regions.  This presentation addresses the technical, financial, and policy challenges in achieving substantial decarbonization.  Some of us are familiar with the technologies and tradeoffs for decarbonizing residential buildings.  As shown in today’s presentation, large commercial buildings present significantly different challenges.   

Michael Gevelber, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University, will present his findings on decarbonizing the major buildings on the BU campus.  Mr. Gevelber has an undergraduate degree in Physics with from Brown University and a Masters and Ph.D from  M.I.T. in Mechanical Engineering.

The video for the presentation is here. The presentation slides are here.

Expert series – 2/7/23 – Shorting the Grid with Meredith Angwin

In the second part of the series on grid operation and governance, Meredith Angwin, author of Shorting the Grid, discusses the difference between the “Physical” grid, the “Policy” grid, and the “Could” grid.  She then described the two major forms of grid governance – traditional vertically integrated utilities and the deregulated RTOs – such as ISO-NE – along with a discussion of energy auctions and load balancing.  For all utilities the importance of baseload power is stressed.

For the RTOs and ISO-NE in particular, Meredith argues that no one is ultimately responsible for grid reliability, and this can lead to rolling blackouts or worse.

The video for Meredith’s presentation and discussion are here.  The slides are here.

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