HEET’s Audrey Schulman featured in The Washington Post

Illustration by Stef Wong for The Washington Post.

The Washington Post spent a day getting to know HEET’s visionary co-founder and co-executive director, Audrey Schulman. Read her profile here

Climate reporter Tik Root recounts Audrey’s and HEET’s evolution over the years. 

“Schulman is not an engineer or a scientist,” Root writes. “By profession, the 58-year-old is a writer with five novels to her name, and a sixth set to publish next year. But she is also the founder and co-director of an environmental nonprofit called the Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET). Founded in 2009, the organization has evolved from focusing on weatherizing buildings in the Boston area to putting an end to natural gas — a mission that could eventually reshape how the entire state and beyond gets energy.” 

Motivated to fight climate change, Audrey began with work parties to make homes more energy efficient. But in 2012, she learned that gas leaks account for more emissions than those from homes and buildings–and she pivoted. Together with a small dedicated team, she began mapping utility-reported gas leaks in Massachusetts. 

Photo: Lauren Justice for The Washington Post. Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi, center, tour a geothermal site in Cambridge, MA, with geothermal consultant Tracey Ogden and Eversource’s Nikki Bruno.

Root describes Audrey’s surprise at the immediate impact of this work: “‘It was just stunning,’ Schulman said, of the approximately 16,000 unrepaired leaks she charted. ‘Nobody had known how many natural gas leaks there were.’ Schulman sent the findings to the Boston Globe, unsure if she would even get a response. On August 20, 2015, the story ran on the front page.” 

Thanks in part to HEET’s mapping work and to the attention of advocacy groups like Gas Leaks Allies and Mothers Out Front, in 2016 Massachusetts passed the first law of its kind requiring gas utilities to prioritize repairing super-emitting gas leaks (the leaks that spew out the most emissions).

With the addition of Zeyneb Magavi as HEET’s co-executive director, HEET’s work has expanded to envisioning an energy system without carbon emissions. 

“To bring geothermal to Massachusetts homes and businesses, HEET proposes replacing existing gas lines with closed water pipe loops and bore holes,” Root explains. “One of Massachusetts’s largest natural gas providers, Eversource, wants to pilot the idea on roughly 100 units and has been sorting through applications for the initial installation.” 

Learn more about HEET’s networked ground source heat pumps solution, aka GeoGrids.

Eversource is currently considering several demonstration sites in Massachusetts and is set to start construction next year.