One by one, more cities are banning natural gas in new construction projects. One grassroots organization leading the transition to fully-renewable in Cambridge, Massachusetts is HEET, the Home Energy Efficiency Team. HEET advocates for replacing old gas infrastructure with geothermal micro districts using ground-source heat pumps. The organization is spearheaded not by engineers or scientists, but by a group of local moms who want to create a more sustainable future for their children.
HEET was started by author Audrey Schulman who says that motherhood inspired her to take action on climate issues. Along with fellow neighborhood parents, like Zeyneb Magavi, Schulman decided to tackle plugging natural gas leaks from corroded pipes. After publishing a map of the city’s leaks and urging public officials to take action, Schulman and Magavi moved on to the larger root of the problem: natural gas as a whole.
HEET’s proposed ground-source heat pumps draw heat from several hundred feet underground, where the temperature remains a relatively constant 54 degrees, to heat and cool buildings. It’s considered one of the most eco-friendly heating and cooling options out there, but its upfront costs have discouraged cities from adopting it. Unfortunately, it can cost up to $45,000 to install the technology in a single building. However, converting entire neighborhoods at once significantly reduces this cost, so HEET set to work convincing Cambridge to embrace the idea.
HEET’s proposal is gaining momentum. The organization has partnered with some local officials and even local gas companies to bring their idea to scale. A feasibility study found that the transition to ground-source heat pumps would slash emissions by 60 percent, reduce strain on the grid, and save residents money on electricity bills. The concept is being tested at two sites in the community and HEET hopes that if those trials go well, the concept can be proposed for city-wide adoption.
Schulman and Magavi recognize that it will be an uphill battle to overhaul the air conditioning of an entire city, but they’re determined to build a better world for their children, so they’re not giving up anytime soon. We will continue to follow this story as well as ground-source heat pump experiments elsewhere and provide updates.