Smart-Energy History: from Harold Rist II (retired)
For over 40 years now I have had a goal. Before I die I want to free the USA of our need for foreign oil and gas, ending dependency on countries who, before 1973, when we became a net importer, would not have given the time of day to. That and help our Mother Earth get back on her feet from the decades or continuous air pollution from the use of these obvious air pollutants. Some say that my goal is unrealistic, but I will never give it up, as long as I breathe.
One of our sons was US Army for over 20 years. He, and his fellow soldiers, have done more than there fair share in going to the far East to defend our supposed need for this oil. This has got to stop. Our military is here to defend our freedom, not some foreign oil interests, or greedy Americans only interested in profit.
By the use of renewable energies, geothermal and solar, since 1975 we, and our customers, have succeeded in curbing the drilling, transporting, and burning of more Than 440,000 barrels of this oil. It’s a small step, but it all helps. Geothermal, by far made the largest contribution in our Northeast.
I am also a believer in clean, renewable energies, and have since growing up in the Adirondack Mountains, NY.
I am from the very small town of Newcomb, where I learned from friends and relatives that”we only have one earth” and only one chance to keep it clean enough for humans to be able to continue living on it.
When I was very young, my Grandfather, Ernest D.Rist, who was supervisor of Newcomb, and my Father Harold Ernest Rist, p.e. went to meetings with an organization called Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA). Many other Adirondack Town Supervisors and concerned citizens were members of ANCA. The goal of these meetings was to promote clean, renewable energies for the Adirondacks, from the Adirondacks.
After many meetings and discussions they all agreed that the clean energies they wanted to support and promote were wood, wind, solar, hydro-electric, and geothermal. All of these met the criteria they discussed and began to call them smart-energies, as long term, sustainable for the Adirondacks, without adding pollution to the beautiful mountains and pristine lakes and streams surrounding them.
I was extremely fortunate when we moved to Warren County, NY and I attended Queensbury High School.
Beginning in 1957. One outstanding teacher who helped focus me into a true believer in renewable energies and always doing what is right for our earth was Walt Curren. He taught Biology and Earth Science, and will always be, my teacher, my mentor, and my friend. Thank you again and again, Mr. Curren !
In 1975 I returned to the Adirondacks after 10 years of active duty with the US Navy, working in the electronics and nuclear power fields. Was stationed on some US warships, serviced our nuclear submarines on the East Coast, a voluntary tour of duty in Viet Nam, and served on both US and overseas bases.
The company I worked at starting in 1975 was called Mechanical Electrical Systems, Inc. ( Mech-Elec ) where I instituted the companies renewable energy goals. Later, after attending the ANCA meetings, we took on the slogan “the smart-energy people”, and registered the trademark with New York State.
Mech-Elec did solar Domestic Hot Water Systems, Solar Pool Heating Systems, and developed a “Kilo-Miser” electrical demand load limiting system that it patented and installed in many schools and large commercial buildings in New York and Vermont.
In New York the ones I remember were Hudson Valley, Adirondack, and Columbia Greene Community Colleges, Albany Savings Bank in Schenectady, Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs High Schools, as well as many others in Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Potsdam, Watertown, and other towns throughout the Adirondacks.
In Vermont the ones remembered are all schools. Oxbow, Union 32, Middlebury, Milton, and Winooski. I also remember doing energy studies at UVM in Burlington for two large buildings. Think they were known as Given and Dewey ?
The first geothermal system I ever got involved with was designed by my father’s partner in the engineering firm of Rist-Frost Associates, Richard “Dick” Bodette, p.e. Mechanical Engineer, who was way ahead of his time. Dick was designing systems that were pro environment, even before anyone thought “green”. That first geothermal Open Loop System was in the Kamyr Building, on Ridge Street, in Glens Falls, New York, made operational in 1972.
Dick was a pioneer in renewable and earth based energy in many of his projects. Even though at that time oil was both plentiful, and relatively cheap, he never believed in wasting our natural resources. He designed the mechanical systems in the Glens Falls Civic Center, and tried to convince the city government to let them give away the free waste heat to Stitchman Towers ( adjacent to the Civic Center ) from the production of the ice sheet for the Adirondack Red Wings AHL Hockey Team. The city turned him down?
I thank Dick Bodette for his insight and perseverance, when he believed it was “the right thing to do”, even when everyone else said “why bother”.
In the early years Mech-Elec ran into some big stumbling blocks, as the manufacturers of the early geothermal equipments took a lot of liberties with their spec. sheets. What they touted as performance figures did not usually relate to the truth. That we found out the hard way when equipments fell short of their “Bob’s Horsepower”, or “Fred’s Peak Power” published figures.
In the Early 1980’s this was alleviated when the Northeast Utilities in all of New England and New York wanted to get involved in the emerging geothermal energy field by promoting them with low interest loans and rebates. They did not have enough technical people on staff to decipher the conflicting specification sheets each individual manufacturer published.
At that time the Air Conditioning Research Institute (ARI) had been the industry standard, supplying independent testing of all refrigerated air conditioning products and publishing their results. More recently the ARI has combined with a group known as GAMA for heating product performance ratings, and is now known as AHRI.
When the Northeast Utilities contacted the then ARI they asked if they would test and establish performance standards for any geothermal equipment manufacturer’s equipment. ARI said they would not set standards, but would only put their “ARI Certified” sticker on the equipment and manufacturers literature if the equipment and published literature “was the truth”.
This they did, and then the Northeast Utilities set the minimum performance standards they deemed necessary to generate the required levels of efficiency needed by their customers to participate in their programs. This was the beginning of the “Energy Star” idea, in the 1980’s.
Well, needless to say, right after that many of the then existing geothermal manufacturers faded into the woodwork, as their equipment and published performance figures were in no way related. Most of this happened 25 –30 years ago, But, even today not all equipment manufacturers have their equipment independently tested by AHRI. What you get with them is a “pig in a poke”, and most likely a “pack of lies”.
Mech-Elec had been very successful in doing many geothermal installations and learning along the way what worked, in our Northeast climate, and more important, what didn’t.
What kept throwing us for a curve was all of the literature and information coming out of the Southwest, as all of the support organizations were headquartered in Texas and Oklahoma. They were publishing data as if “one size fits all”, and what they did there was what we should do here.
Well, we found out the hard way that was not true. We could not use the ground conditions, weather patterns sunshine index, etc. of their part of the world with predominantly air conditioning needs and frost that goes down inches in the Winter, and use it in our world. It has failed drastically for ourselves and everyone else who had tried it in those early years. Many gave up and became the nay-sayers who said “those geothermal systems don’t work in the Northeast”. If only they had learned from their mistakes and persevered. We did.
The Horizontal, Pond, and Lake Loops they touted as the best thing “since sliced bread” down there, didn’t work well here. When we put in the non-toxic anti-freeze Propylene-Glycol they recommended it turned into Maple Syrup after the long run times in our climate and would “sludge up” and be very hard to pump. The only way to overcome this was to put on larger and larger pumps so that their increased energy consumption ate up all of the “savings” supposedly designed into the geothermal system.
In fact, there was so much misinformation coming out of the Southwest we ( Mech-Elec ) published our own Booklet to offset some of the harm it was doing here in the Northeast with new installing contractors and homeowners who thought what they were doing was O.K., because they saw it in an IGSHPA booklet or national publication.
That’s when some less than scrupulous engineers decided that METHANOL would fit the bill. METHANOL would be easy to pump down to the low 20’s ‘F. It wouldn’t jell up at all. So they did it, and no one was the wiser, until we had some earthquakes and the shifting earth ripped the closed loops open and dumper their poisonous METHANOL into people’s drinking water wells, lakes, and streams. Then we had more quakes, and more, and more. It seems they are a natural occurrence here in the Northeast. Isn’t that amazing.
With ours, and other organizations efforts, we have been fighting for over 25 years to outlaw this practice. To date we have been successful in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. We hope to get it to the state legislature of Vermont soon. Though I am a native Adirondacker I know that if there is greed and profit someone will do it in New York State.
Since Dick Bodette’s original engineering tests in the early 1970’s we have pioneered the Open Loop / Vertical Standing Water Column (VSWC) technology as the best option for geothermal here in the Northeast. AHRI has proven it over and over with it’s tests on manufacturers equipments to be 25 – 30% more efficient that closed loops in our environment, and that without having to address anything with toxic anti-freeze solutions. We use only clean, potable, water well water. In most cases the same water and well the customer is using for their domestic drinking water.
In 1996, while we were in the field for days at a time our dishonest bookkeeper embezzled from Mech-Elec and caused the company to go bankrupt and close it’s doors. I had to work for other companies until I got part way back on my feet, then reopened in 2001 as Smart-Energy, and again began geothermal installations.
Having learned many years ago we continued only using AHRI certified equipments and adhere to their published AHRI specifications to determine things like, Heat Output, Heat of Absorption, COP, Cooling Output, EER, and Heat of Rejection. All of this while allowing for “all energy inputs being included”. So, there are no hidden extras with AHRI numbers.
What it has taken us this long to prove beyond a shadow of doubt, for over 40+ years, and 770+ times we have proven that our Open Loop / VSWC is the only permanent solution Geothermal in the Northeast. It has three major advantages over any other options in the Northeast. They are:
- 25 – 30% performance advantage for the same piece of AHRI certified equipment
- Should the next, or the next, or the next earthquake break your Open Loop / VSWC “loop” system you know where it all is and it can be repaired by a reputable NGWA Well Driller 24/7/365 days of the year. Not so with a closed loop. If it shears with any quake you are “up the creek”. You can try to repair it again next Summer, that’s if you are the original owner and have an accurate plot plan as to where it is, repair it, then wait for it to split again on the next, or the next quake.
- Liability wise how would you like to find out your neighbor had a closed loop filled with METHANOL, or a similar toxic substance, and the quake last night just dumped hundreds of gallons of METHANOL into the aquifer your drinking water well is in !
That is why, after over 40+ years of hard knocks in learning the best HVAC energy alternative for the Northeast am I so eager to “give it way”. I am willing to teach this simple technology to Grade School, High School, College Students, People in the HVAC Trades, Architects, Engineers, and just about anyone who has a genuine interest in doing the right thing to reduce our energy dependence on foreign powers and drastically reduce the pollution of our atmosphere with Hydro-Carbons, Carbon Monoxide, and Carbon Dioxide. “I would like to see the simple Technology of Open Loop / VSWC geothermal Heating and Cooling in High School and College Textbooks, soon”.
Harold Ernest Rist II