Interview with Jeff Sutherland – Inventor of Scrum and Renewable Energy Advocate

Recently I had the pleasure of learning a more effective way to manage projects. The two day course, titled Scrum Product Owner training, was taught by Jeff Sutherland, the inventor and co-creator of Scrum and author of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

sky blue Tesla Roadster with Jeff Sutherland and Gabrielle Benefield

Jeff Sutherland during 1st test drive of Tesla Roadster with Scrum business partner Gabrielle Benefield

During the class he mentioned having two Tesla electric cars and having recently installed solar and geothermal at his home.  Over lunch, he and I discussed renewable energy, energy storage and other related topics after which he offered to do an interview about his home for our blog. What follows is our email interview:

Why did you decide to install solar and geothermal on your home?

As a former fighter pilot and university professor, I have long been involved in how to reduce conflict in the world. Conflict over resources, particularly oil, has driven continuous wars in the last century. Also concern over climate and energy usage has been a preoccupation. Furthermore it is getting colder in Boston every year and the snow is deeper. I need to eliminate dependence on oil and have a backup in case of electrical outage.

It is my view that energy will be so low cost in the future that it will essentially be free if innovations in many laboratories come to fruition. The one solution that is readily available today for free energy is solar. Particularly in recent years the cost has dropped so radically that the payback for solar installation is less than five years.

So my goal is to eliminate oil consumption systematically and completely. My view is that oil is unnecessary and only used because business interests make a lot of money off it while destroying the planet. Only if we stop buying will they change their ways.

My first step was to move toward electric cars. However, I wanted a better car, a faster car, and a more fun car. I found that in the Tesla Roadster. People complained that (1) it was expensive and (2) it used coal burning electricity and other resources.

To answer the expense question, I bought friends and family stock at $17 and it has been as high as $280. I have enough of the stock to get free cars for the rest of my life. So the joke is on my friends who a still paying for cars, not to mention gas, and are polluting the planet.

I followed up on the Tesla Roadster purchase by buying two Tesla Model-S cars. My Tesla Model-S P85D scored over 100% on Consumer Reports and is the best car in the world. It is also essentially free because of my Tesla stock. I gave the first Tesla Model-S away.

The second step was to get free electricity, more than I needed, so no matter how many cars, how many lights, or how much air conditioning I used, I’d have so much electricity that I can give a lot of it away for free. This is how I feel about life. We don’t need oil and energy should be free for all.  My personal demonstration is to give it away for free while generating a zero carbon footprint.

Tell us about the path to installing solar and geothermal at your home?

Solar

I first starting working with a vendor out of Plymouth, MA for my house in Somerville. He had done a good job for my son’s house in Cambridge to produce 1/3 of my son’s electrical requirements. However, the vendor turned out to be dishonest and I had to write off a $20,000 loss. I didn’t have the time or inclination to take him to court. So the first suggestion for others is to pick a reputable vendor.

When I moved to Lincoln, my house was perfectly designed for solar. I brought in Solar City and they said it was the best house they had seen in Massachusetts for installing solar. I have two large roof areas positioned nicely for solar panels. Solar City’s business model is to install for free and charge you a reduced rate for electricity. I was willing to do that with them but they would not fill my roof with panels as the excess electricity would not make them more money. Also some of the engineers said I would save more money by paying for the installation. I brought in Direct Energy Solar and they have done a great job for me by filling my roofs with solar panels.

If you would like to learn more details about the entire process of installing solar on a home (including our own struggles with choosing the right contractor), we go through our journey in Massachusetts in our Going for Solar Series and our friends’ shared their installation experience from New Jersey in Solar Should Be Simple Series.

Tesla Batteries

My next step is to install Tesla Power Wall systems which will have enough electrical storage to take me off the grid.

Photo of home with both roofs covered in solar panels

Jeff Sutherland’s home in Lincoln, MA – 39.6 kW Solar Array

I agree with what the solar engineers told Jeff.  What I tell friends who ask me which is better, should they lease or buy solar, is that the leasing companies like Solar City make money or they wouldn’t be doing it.  If you can afford to invest the capital upfront, you can save that money and you will get a better return.  If you don’t have the capital to invest, then leasing is still a good option as long as the contract is fair.  Always read and understand the terms of the contract!  Now back to Jeff’s home.

Geothermal

jeff-geothermal-furnacesThe geothermal system took a week of drilling for four 400 foot deep wells. Piping is run down the wells to circulate antifreeze. Two geothermal furnaces are installed that will use electricity to bring the water up to the temperature needed for the house. Geothermal typically reduces energy costs by 80%. I think it will use less electricity than my air conditioner. We will find out this winter.

Sila installed two geothermal furnaces which cycle antifreeze down through the four wells. These heat water which heats the pipes in our floors. We have radiant heat throughout.

 

What about each system makes you the happiest?

Eliminating the dependency on oil and the grid. And having backup systems in case of power failures.

The solar system has caused my electrical meter to run backwards by 10,955 kWh since the installation.

Jeff's Solar Electric MeterWhen the geothermal is turned on it will eliminate $6,000/year in oil costs. Add a couple of thousand for the gasoline I no longer buy and that is $8,000 a year. Electricity was costing me about $500 a month in the summer and the solar is paying for that plus giving me an additional $500 in credit each month. That’s a few thousand dollars more per year bringing the payback down to about 10 years. Then, in addition, I will get thousands of dollars in solar credits (SRECS for 39.6kW system – about 42 per year which are worth $285-450 each) that are bought by the utilities, which I think will bring the payment down to less than five years. Just like the Tesla Roadster, it seems expensive at first and then makes everything free. Most people have a hard time getting their heads around this.

What is the most frustrating thing with each system?

I haven’t had any frustrations yet. So far everything works perfectly and exceeds my expectations.

What are you going to do with the excess electricity generated by your solar array?

I plan to give electricity away to the local Unitarian Universalist Church which should give me a tax break and shorten the payback time for solar even more. If I still have a surplus, I might ask my neighbors if they want some free electricity.

What do you think is going to be the biggest innovation to impact climate change in the next 5 years?

Electric cars have the most immediate impact if we can scale their distribution. And they can all be powered by solar.

What do you plan to do next to make a difference?

I’m thinking of having community meetings in my home to talk about how local citizens can improve their lives while improving their environment.

Thank you Jeff for taking the time to share your stories with our readers and for all you have done to reduce your carbon footprint and help bring about efficiencies of all sorts.

Happy Greening!
Jon

 

More about Jeff Sutherland

Jeff Sutherland

CEO, Principal Consultant and Trainer at ScrumInc.com

“Scrum is an Agile method designed to add energy, focus, clarity and transparency to project planning and implementation. While some say Scrum is not a silver bullet, it can be a heat-seeking missile to outmoded business practices.”

Jeff is the inventor and co-creator of Scrum. He is a West Point graduate, former fighter pilot and cancer researcher, as well as CTO of eleven different software companies.  He launched the first Scrum team in 1993 and has shephereded its growth into almost every industry: finance, healthcare, higher education and telecom. His most recent book is Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

 

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Comments

  1. Since this piece was published, the geothermal is fully operational. It runs water under the floors and heats the house exactly to temperature set much more smoothly than oil and is virtually silent in operation. Over the next few months I will see how it impacts electricity usage. I expect it will be less than air conditioner utilization in the summer.

    Geothermal is a much better solution that oil in every way. The only barrier is upfront investment required.

    • Jeff, we look forward to hearing how the geothermal does through the New England winter. Radiant floor heat is wonderful, and even better when tied to geothermal. Thanks, Jon!

    • Here is the data from 100 Page Road for the last few months since geothermal install. Oil burner is off so all heat is from electrical geothermal. Weather has been warm but so far geothermal electrical consumption is negligible and looks like it will be significantly less than electrical air conditioning during the summer. Maybe next thing to consider is geothermal cooling. Solar generation declines radically with shorter days so I am drawing off the grid. I have generated a $2000 credit for summer solar production so this is not a problem. The last week’s data is for Thanksgiving week with lots of visitors and friends using more than average electricity. I am also powering two Tesla automobiles which are driven daily.

      4 Oct 23314 86969 Solar Grid Consumption Kw/Day
      28 Oct 24582 87103 1268 134 1402 53.9
      15 Nov 25696 87507 1114 404 1518 89.3
      22-Nov 26131 87795 435 288 723 42.5
      29-Nov 26484 88248 353 453 806 47.4

      • Update on 100 Page Road – solar and geothermal running perfectly and I just installed a solar water heater that uses some of my free electricity. Also am installing Tesla Powerwalls to back up the house whenever the power goes down. It will eliminate the almost daily momentary interruptions of power from Eversource and is designed to keep the solar and the backup oil burner operational if the power goes down for longer periods in a storm.

  2. Hello Jeff,

    It’s so wonderful to see you moving to energy independence. Maybe it’ time to write your next book – How to get twice the energy in half the cost.

    I live in Minnesota, where winters are harsh, but there is lot’s of sunshine. Could be a great idea to test out here.

    Samir

  3. George Geschwend says:

    Great stuff. It has got me inspired.

    • After several years of solar on my Lincoln home, the perfectly functioning solar panels have almost paid for themselves (about 4 year payback). The geothermal system provides much more even and comfortable heat and uses about the same amount of electricity in winter as my air conditioning in the summer.

      I am now installing 10 Tesla Powerwall batteries, which could power the house for a day during the worst scenario – middle of winter power outage, no solar because of a blizzard with snow on the roof, and -20 weather. For most of the year that means I will be running off grid.

      Electricity prices are increasing. I’m getting almost 20 cents a kilowatt credit for electricity I produce. Solar panel prices are plummeting so for people going solar now the payback is faster and accelerating as electricity prices continue to increase.

      • Latest update is I now have over $4000 credit on my utility bill and it the credit is increasing so I replaced my water heater with an electric solar heater. I will need some of the credit to get through the winter and will look at what happens next summer after the Powerwalls are installed. Will have to start giving some electricity away soon (or maybe start mining bitcoin)!

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