After more than 40 years as a builder, Joseph Potter made a career move, switching his focus to include commercial geothermal systems; well drilling, rehab, abandonment and repair; and replacement of pumps and systems. “I never expected to be drilling wells at the end of my building career,” Potter says.
The civil engineer by education says he grew intrigued by geothermal heat rejection as a simple and economical replacement for cooling towers during his final major construction project, which included the installation of a geothermal system for a public safety complex. The dream of pursuing geothermal work led Potter to join Diversified Drilling Corporation, located in Zephyrhills, Fla., where he serves as vice president and general manager. The geothermal well drilling company generally serves governmental, city, county and large commercial clients in central and northern Florida.
Since joining Diversified Drilling two years ago, he has learned that running a small business is no easy feat and that staying ahead of the many challenges encountered on a weekly basis is tough. “My hat’s off to all those people that work in small business,” he says.
Potter says he notices acceleration in Class V geothermal adoption, and that the pairing of a groundwater heat exchange loop with a water-source heat pump system offers quick return on investment. His last building project, the public safety complex, has seen a 1 million-gallon per month water consumption savings thanks to the elimination of the cooling tower. “I believe the water district would say a geothermal HVAC system is water wise. As to green energy, next to solar hot water, geothermal HVAC has the best return on investment, certainly ahead of solar and wind.”
Q. What do you do and what keeps you coming back every day?
A. My challenge has been to acquire new work and to focus on new geothermal clients. This involves networking, giving a lot of free advice and design help. That and scheduling a small group of experienced employees to complete the tasks within the budget.
Q. What does a typical workday involve?
A. Rising at 5 a.m. daily and looking at the bid sheets and emails, making the trek to the office while touching base with employees on current events, pricing work and trying to get paid.
Q. What does it take to succeed in what you do?
A. Know your subject and share what you know with your clients. The dividends will be gleaned from open and honest interaction.
Q. What do you wish you knew when you started?
A. I thought I had a good understanding of the groundwater business, but quickly admitted to near ignorance. That simple admission has paid dividends. If you are open to learning and add that to your own databank, it only gets better.
Q. What tool can you not imagine working without?
A. A computer, a telephone and a contact list. Networking in this industry and with the engineers that you meet will open doors. It is a friendly community.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. Surround yourself with good people, subcontractors, suppliers and clients, and listen to their comments and instruction.
Q. How would you describe the present state of the industry?
A. Speaking of wells and drilling in Florida, I feel the industry has recently opened back up to a very busy pace with an improved profit margin. More [aquifer storage recovery] wells are being drilled. New techniques are being developed to reduce salt water encroachment into the aquifer and to save water for future needs.
Speaking of geothermal HVAC, this is a field that is growing exponentially. New York State will require all new government buildings to be reviewed for geothermal use before final approval. Ontario, Canada, is requiring, by code, that geothermal heat pumps be used in home heating in lieu of oil and gas by 2030. Since most of their power is from hydro-plants, they will have an increasingly green footprint.