Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi
Winner of the 2021 Constellation Prize for Energy Transitions and Industrial Transformation
Photo credit: Boston Globe
“We’re trying to look at the social and the technical aspects of the system...look at and blame and try to fix the system, not the people in the system...[and] when you can’t find the solution, look at the larger system around it and see if you can find the solution there.”
Audrey Schulman (pictured on the left) and Zeyneb Magavi (pictured on the right), both Co-Executive Directors of the non-profit Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) in Massachusetts, are acknowledged for their contributions in reducing methane emissions and leading the transition to geothermal energy.
Audrey, Zeyneb, and their team at HEET have demonstrated an approach to innovation in engineering that is based not just on technical rigor, but on movement building, collaborative innovation, and co-creation. In tackling the challenge of leaked methane from aging distribution system pipelines, they engaged with a network of gas utility executives, gas and geo engineers, workers, academics, manufacturers, state legislators and regulators, as well as community leaders and methane emissions reduction and climate advocates. By building and maintaining such a network of relationships, listening deeply, and engaging all in the seeking of solutions they have been able to create two significant innovations that provide a model for climate change mitigation, energy transitions, and industrial transformation.
First, to address methane emissions, they have established a new method now mandated by Massachusetts state regulation for identifying and rank-ordering large volume gas leaks, and they have created a new tool called the FLUXBar. The FLUXBar is already use by gas utilities in Massachusetts as the only available method of quantifying the flux of methane gas flowing through a drill hole in the street over the gas leak.
The second innovation, GeoGrid, was born out of a question Zeyneb asked given the high cost of installing a home geothermal energy system: "Could a utility provide geothermal energy for me and my neighbors for the same monthly energy bill as gas?" The GeoGrid is a solution to heat and cool homes in a safe, non-emitting and affordable way. Instead of natural gas, GeoGrid uses networked ground source heat pumps. Six GeoGrid demonstration projects are now permissioned and funded in Massachusetts, with more in the pipeline, as gas utilities increasingly turn to this innovation as a possible future business model.
The words of Jay Egg, who nominated Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi for the Constellation Prize, have been integrated into this write-up.