The following conversation was edited for clarity and space.
Q. You took over IGSHPA in March from long-time director Dr. Jim Bose. Can you give my readers a brief biography, and tell us what skills and experience you bring to the group?
A. I was interim for two to three months and was confirmed by the board of regents in either March or April. Depending on how far you want to go back, I was a student of industrial engineering and management at Oklahoma State University. Upon graduation, I went to work for the Monsanto company. Most of my time with them was at a large manufacturing chemical plant south of Houston where I was involved in general plant maintenance, materials testing, inventory management. I got into IT systems design and we actually built the first comprehensive maintenance information and communication system, which in the ’80s was a new thing.
I went on to spend several years at Monsanto’s Greenwood, S.C., plant, which is a nylon producing facility. Monsanto split and fragmented into multiple entities and the older industrial chemical sites basically got downsized. So, I was a part of that.
I think it was the end of 2005 that I came back to the [OSU] College of Engineering working out of the dean’s office as manager of support services — anything that was not teaching or research related. Basically, all the things that I had done throughout my career with Monsanto served me in that job, so it was something that was just right for me.
Actually, from day one, I was treasurer because of my position in the dean’s office, to the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association. … I remember my first day back at OSU in this job, Dr. Jim Bose came up to me and introduced himself and said, “We need you at IGSHPA.” Little did I know that he was pointing this far down the road.
Q. How does being at the helm of IGSHPA differ from other management experiences you’ve had?
A. When you compare it to working for a Fortune 500 company, a for-profit company that obviously reports to a CEO who reports to stockholders, there are a lot of things that are the same. You need HR processes. You need financial processes. The fact that you need maintenance and logistics, that’s pretty much the same.
The systems whereby you do those things are at a much more elementary stage at a university because outreach is not the prime function. Classrooms and laboratories are the prime functions. Running non-profit outreach, while very important, is probably not central to the core. …
The differences that I’ve found in working at a university outreach program is, again, we have access to brilliant people who are well-noted in the industry of heat pumps and heat transfer. … Academia can do its work without the immediate pressure of producing profitable results in the next quarter. It’s not good or bad. It just is what it is. We [in the private sector] were always subject to, “How are we doing this quarter?” The academic world, they deal in a much longer timeframe.
Q. The stated mission of IGSHPA is to promote the use of the technology. Can you talk about the current state of adoption?
A. Down the road, this is data that we’re going to have to understand a lot better. Right now, estimates I hear from the industry is that it’s something less than 5 percent, which is really classified as a niche market category. That’s where I think we’re at right now, that’s where it’s bounced along for some time. I’m new to the business, so I don’t know how long. There hasn’t been any major growth spurts.
Q. Now that we’ve established a baseline, what would you hope adoption looks like in 10 years?
A. We just finished the pre-part of a process we call “IGSHPA 2.0.” It’s a fresh look and redesign of who we are and what we do. How do we add value to the industry? In that process we talked about a near-term goal of getting over the 5 percent mark and a then long-term goal of 25 percent in 10 years. … We’re just now establishing the infrastructure, the governance, the actions to get to that 25 percent in 10 years. That’s our goal as we’re looking forward. Part of that will be understanding and getting good data on where we’re at right now.
Q. Talk to me a little bit about this IGSHPA 2.0 concept. What is the idea behind that, and is there some kind of timeframe for moving that forward.
A. When I came into the job, a couple of things happened. IGSHPA at OSU was part of the school of technology [along with several other outreach units]. … The outreach units were sort of scattered and not tied to each other in any meaningful way. Last November, the dean created an assistant dean of outreach and extension at Oklahoma State University in the college of engineering. Gathered together there [under the assistant dean] were the units I mentioned plus International Ground Source Heat Pump Association, which was part of [the] technology [department].
At that same time, Dr. Jim Bose — who I guess you could say is the Henry Ford or Thomas Edison of the ground source heat pump — after 27 years retired in November. Those two forces brought me forward and brought the group forward to look at how the group becomes part of this family of units in outreach and extension at OSU.
So, part of my challenge and the challenge to the group is to do at least three things:
- Assimilate IGSHPA into the college of outreach and extension.
- Do a better job at our core businesses. We had gone from about 8,000 members to about 5,500 members. There was sort of chatter out there that, in some cases, the membership wasn’t satisfied with the service that they were getting.
- Look at ourselves, look at what we do, where we’re going.
We solicited the services of Glenn Tecker from Tecker International, a consultant to non-profits. He took us through a three-day retreat with 24 of the members, leadership and people even from affiliate organizations. He guided use through a redesign process of basically what we want to be, how can we add value and how can we involve the industry more so in the leadership and direction of International Ground Source Heat Pump than it has been in the past. How do we deliver value to our members?
I supplied the IGSHPA 2.0 title to that effort and we are well over halfway through what I would call the design phase. Right now Tecker and associates are giving us the blueprint. They’re putting all the information we gathered together into bylaws, mission statements and goals, and they will be presented at the conference in Baltimore.
Q. Broadly speaking, what plans do you have for IGSHPA that can help toward that goal?
A. You can’t wait for the IGSHPA 2.0 process in order to do some other things. Erin [Portman, IGSHPA’s communications specialist] is a big part of that. IGSHPA has completely changed its communications, its marketing — our form of marketing, which is not marketing to end users but really to the membership.
I saw opportunities to improve a lot of things right now. Dr. Jim Bose is just absolutely a great friend of mine. I don’t want anything I say to sound like I’m coming in and “fixing” things. It’s that some things — from a business perspective, from a marketing and communications perspective, from a how-do-you-train-in-today’s-world perspective — were sort of a little bit stuck back a few years ago. I’ve got a new coordinator for training. Erin is new in communications. Our IT process control people, they’re new. We have students that work here who are new. We can bring about a lot of change and fold that into IGSHPA 2.0 rather than waiting and designing IGSHPA 2.0, and then trying to do some things later on.
I have the highest regard for Dr. Jim Bose and what has been dealt here. It’s unique anywhere in the world. But, it’s also time to change some things and move down the road or we will become irrelevant.
Q. IGSHPA emphasizes both training and communication as paths for industry growth. Let’s talk training first. The group trains a broad range of professionals, including drillers, installers, system designers, architects and engineers. Are there ways to expand the breadth of training, in terms of topics, or is accessibility more crucial (for example, more courses in more places, tele-training)?
A. The answer is yes to both of your questions. It has to be. We have to constantly look and hear back from our industry members, “This is what’s working in our training and this is what’s not.”
Training will be expanded geographically through the development of regional training centers, the first of which has been installed in Pennsylvania. Electronic-based training courses are in development now using experience and templates from another CEAT outreach organization that has a nationwide presence in this area. We are starting with courses that are required to maintain an Accredited Installers CEU requirements.
Our newest course offering, Certified GeoExchange Designer, targets engineers and architects who design for large commercial buildings. This course is accredited by the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). We have recently improved and standardized our training materials for this offering.
There are some things, when you talk about flushing and purging, fusion and drilling, you need to be inside or outside actually doing that [to learn it]. And we have a laboratory set up for doing that. But the things that are taught in the classroom … they [Fire Protection Publications, another outreach unit] have an excellent template and design for all their courses that they give across the United States for fire departments. We’re looking at replicating that where it works for our courses. That could be a pre-course for a course here. It could be for CEU units after you take a course and you’re accredited, as well.
With the video capabilities of these courses, a driller could see the difference between using a certain drilling fluid where there’s sand, and the hole collapsing, and using this drilling fluid and keeping the integrity of the borehole, for instance. There’s just tremendous potential in this.
Q. Now, let’s get to communication. There are many ways to convey the message of GSHP technology. What is IGSHPA’s philosophy on communication? That is, do you focus mainly on giving industry professionals the tools to make the case to potential clients; do you plan to focus on speaking directly to the public; or do you plan any legislative or lobbying efforts?
[Ed. note: Erin Portman fielded this question.]
A. I would like to say the answer to all of these is “yes.” But, being part of the university, IGSHPA cannot get directly involved in lobbying. … For the other two cases, one of the things we are going to see out of IGSHPA 2.0 is a playbook of common terms that will be rolled out to our members. This could be a year down the line. But, common terms so we’re all speaking the same language whether it’s Erin or another IGSHPA staff member talking to a geothermal workshop in Indianapolis or one of our IGSHPA members at a trade show, the terms we’re using are the same.
I even notice it right now. At trade shows I can say, “Well, do you know about ground source heat pumps?” “Well, no.” You start explaining what they do, and they say, “Well, that’s a lot like geothermal.” OK, now we’re talking the same language.
We talk to the public. We joined efforts with the Western Farmers Electric Cooperative this year on their GoGoGeo Challenge with the goal of getting 25,000 homeowners in Oklahoma, New Mexico and parts of Texas and Kansas taking a challenge. We show them how much in dollars and energy they could be saving if they had a ground source heat pump system in their home versus whatever they have.
IGSHPA started out involved in designing the software for the program. We pulled the data from what the utility rates were charging per kilowatt hour for propane, electric. We pulled that data and then we have an algorithm where, when IGSHPA or Western Farmers groups go out to cooperative meetings or out in the community, we can punch in the numbers based on the person’s current home and show them what they could be saving. IGSHPA helps staff those events. That’s one way we’re out in the public right now.
We’re also doing some marketing tools for our members to help get the conversation started about, “What is IGSHPA?” One of the things that we did very early on when I came on board was member signs. They’re just little stand-up signs that a member can take to a trade show, or they can have sitting on their desk or in the front of their office so that people can know that they’re an IGSHPA member, and open that conversation. What does this mean? Why is this important? We’re working on incorporating some of that into our classes on the professional development side, as well. Being able to tell our story.
We’re not doing marketing directly to the end user so we’ve got to be able to use our members to help tell the story of IGSHPA but also really, truly, of ground source heat pumps.
Q. Are there any new features or offerings at this year’s Technical Conference and Expo in Baltimore?
A. GeoExchange, the organization, is putting on a workshop on public policy tools and skills. This also reflects our intent at IGSHPA to reach out to affiliate organizations — all of us working together instead of trying to work against each other.
The Western Farmers Electric Cooperative that Erin alluded to is very unique and very successful, so far. They are addressing one of the Achilles heels of ground source heat pumps. That is the first cost of designing, drilling and installing the ground source heat exchanger, which is probably in the neighborhood of 30 percent of extra cost compared to an air source system. Western Farmers, with their GoGoGeo Challenge program, is looking at their organization building and installing the ground source heat exchanger, then leasing the exchanger to the homeowner so the homeowner doesn’t have to put up the capital to create this in the first place.
The Department of Energy has several ground source heat pump projects or grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. They’re going to be reporting on the wrap up of all those projects at our conference.
IGSHPA in Baltimore
The IGSHPA Conference and Technical Expo is Oct. 15-16 in Baltimore with workshops beginning a few days earlier. For registration information visit www.igshpa.okstate.edu/conf. For more geothermal stories, visit www.nationaldriller.com/geothermal.