This hockey legend is making buildings more energy-efficient

Mike Richter helped win a Stanley Cup for the New York Rangers. Now he’s bringing a new prize to town: decarbonized buildings.
By Mike Munsell

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A man with light skin and dark hair wearing a dark business suit stands by a large trophy and a jersey that says Richter 35
Former New York Ranger Mike Richter (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images/Sheraton Hotels & Resorts)

Canary Media’s Climate Meets Culture column explores the intersection of energy, climate and the culture at large.

If I’m being totally honest, I don’t watch a lot of hockey. When I got a pitch for my column inviting me to chat with an NHL legend turned climatetech entrepreneur, I texted a couple of my former college roommates who are die-hard hockey fans.

Do you guys know the former hockey player Mike Richter?”

Any self-respecting Rangers fan knows exactly who he is,” responded one NY-based friend.

The once and forever king Richter. Let’s goooooo,” texted the other.

After that initial due diligence, I took to Google and quickly learned that Richter is ranked among the top hockey goalies of all time, with a Stanley Cup, an Olympic silver medal and a World Cup of Hockey win to his name. Oh, and the best college hockey goalie every year wins an award named after him.

Richter retired from hockey in 2003 and soon after enrolled at Yale University. According to his LinkedIn profile, he earned a bachelor’s degree in ethics, politics and economics with a focus on environmental policy in 2007. Since then, he’s been in the clean energy field, largely using capital to fund energy-efficiency projects.

I talked with Richter about his path from hockey to clean energy and also about some of the work he’s doing at the intersection of those two disparate fields. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for brevity.

Mike Munsell: Can you introduce yourself?

Mike Richter: Sure, my name is Mike Richter. I’m the president of Brightcore Energy. We’re a full-service energy-efficiency deployment company. We go to commercial and industrial buildings and make them perform better, thus lowering their carbon footprint and their operating costs.

Munsell: I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you were doing before Brightcore.

Richter: I was a professional athlete for the New York Rangers. It was very fulfilling on a personal level and obviously very challenging. And it afforded me great opportunities to build up to a second career.

When you finish your athletic career, you have your whole life in front of you. I knew immediately that I was going to get into the finance-meets-environmental space. It’s something that has always interested me, and there’s no shortage of work to do.

Munsell: What led you into the environmental space? Was climate change on your radar?

Richter: The environment is such an important component of our existence. It’s in everybody’s interest to have it continue to function properly. When you start to either diminish the environment or just have larger demands on it, there’s probably a market solution for it. There are more people on earth. There is more demand for these resources. So there’s an opportunity to maybe be more efficient with them.

And I’ve always been drawn to the energy space. I’m not an engineer by training, but I have great people around me. 

Munsell: And can you tell me a little bit more about Brightcore and its business model?

Richter: In some ways, we are kind of pedestrian. We use proven, off-the-shelf technology; it’s not cutting-edge stuff. Our clients are not guinea pigs. These are commercially proven products that we’re putting into commercial and industrial buildings.

It can be something as simple as lighting or as complicated as geothermal loops. But we basically have three verticals: lighting and controls, solar that increasingly comes with battery storage as that cost curve comes down, and renewable HVAC in the form of geothermal ground-source heat exchanges.

We also are very interested in the transportation sector, and we’re doing a lot with plug-ins for electric vehicles, both for fleets and individuals. We started with lighting simply because every building has lighting, so it’s a great way of getting to the building and understanding the energy profile. Then we bolt on things like on-site generation through solar-plus-battery-storage, which then leads to demand response — a possible revenue stream.

But really, what we’re finding exciting now, particularly with the Inflation Reduction Act and some of the legislation that’s coming out in cities and states in the East, is HVAC and especially geothermal heat pumps, where we have some proprietary technology that we’ve partnered on with European firms. We’re bringing it across the ocean to deploy here, and we now have the ability to apply geothermal technology in very dense urban settings, which opens up the retrofit market.

This stuff is happening right now; these are not just ideas and words and hopes. These technologies exist today, and they’re being deployed. And they have to be deployed at scale.

Munsell: It’s like the #EnergyTwitter mantra, DEPLOY.”

I saw on your website that you’ve done some work on some sports arenas. Is that through connections from your former career?

Richter: We certainly have connections into that world, given my former career in the NHL. When you think about even a localized, municipal hockey rink, it’s basically keeping that ice at 27 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit through days that could be 90°F outside with 90% humidity. It’s a freezer without a door on it. And these things are not particularly well insulated. So we can come in and actually make them perform a heck of a lot better.

But [at Brightcore], we don’t really focus on athletic facilities per se. We’re opportunistic across all of the commercial and industrial buildings. If you look at multifamily housing, campuses, office buildings — they have huge energy needs. And the grid is getting strained increasingly. So this is an all-hands-on-deck moment.

Munsell: How can we use the culture of sports to help solve the climate crisis?

Richter: In a lot of ways, sports is a perfect metaphor. It’s all about performance. If there’s waste in any form, whether it’s carbon or just using more electrons than you need, you’re probably not performing at your capabilities. That holds true for a 12-year-old goalie, and it holds true for a Goldman Sachs portfolio of buildings. Efficiency rules the day and competition.

Not to stretch that metaphor too much, but in sports, you have everything from food to energy to health all converging on that pitch, or that ice surface, or that football field. And it’s an apolitical place, right? You have conservatives who support the Yankees. You have liberals who support the Yankees. This is a lot larger than some of the petty squabbles we get into about climate change and resource efficiency.

Hockey players tangle in front of the goal
Mike Richter goes for a save during a 1998 match at Madison Square Garden. (J. Giamundo/Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

The [Natural Resources Defense Council] started the Green Sports Alliance way back when, and that’s still going strong. They’re just saying, How can we green our supply chain? How can we get the 25,000 people in the arena to understand that recycling is very important and [get them] to take public transportation?” These are great platforms for people to start thinking about these things on a daily basis.

At a practical level, sports have an enormous carbon footprint, so when you start cleaning it up, it makes a real difference in absolute terms. To help the NHL, we’re partnering with them to put LED lights in some of the 5,000 arenas that are municipal or privately held.

Munsell: What message do you have for Canary’s audience of clean energy professionals and policymakers?

Richter: Well, for the policymakers, [I’d like to see] more of the same, lots more of the same. The IRA has come out, and it has changed the landscape for technologies that have been proven to be the most efficient heating and cooling options out there.

What we’ve always talked about is that our competition is not another company that does what we do — it’s inertia. An internal combustion engine has served us so well for so long. Fossil fuels have too. The density per unit is amazing. And it’s created the society we have. But it’s no longer perfectly functional for us. We need to evolve to a better transportation system, a better way to heat and cool and light our buildings.

When you think about a place like New York City, 80% of the buildings are still going to be there in 2030 years. We’re not blowing these buildings up and making all LEED-standard buildings out of what once was there. The Empire State Building will stay. But we’re going to have to gut that building and put in cutting-edge [efficient] technology so we’re not staying on fossil fuels for the next half-century.

Somebody’s going to have to do that, and that inertia has to be broken through. The Inflation Reduction Act has been so helpful — for New York state in particular — in getting these nascent technologies to be able to compete financially with the legacy fossil fuels. Right now, there are still tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry. There are still enormous subsidies that thankfully lower the cost of fuel per gallon so it’s affordable for everybody. But it also pushes out these new technologies that are trying to come in and compete. So when we can start to change the tax landscape, it makes a huge difference. So I just say more of the same. It’s going to take government. It’s going to take the free markets. And it’s going to take everyday people making these changes.

Munsell: What geographic markets are you active in?

Richter: We work primarily on the East Coast, but we will go anywhere to do the projects that are of scale. When you think about the East Coast and the New York tri-state area, there are billions and billions of dollars to put to work right here. We have aging infrastructure. We have high energy costs; we have enormous demand. So the table’s set for upgrading our old system. And if you’ve been in a passive house, a highly insulated building — it’s a healthier place to live. It’s more comfortable. It’s better lit. And it costs less to run.

These are not sacrifices we’re making. They’re evolution. And I would really encourage us to think more in those terms. How can we make our buildings better, or our schools? We spend more than half a day inside buildings. If they’re not healthy and they’re not well lit, we can’t expect the people inside to perform to their capabilities.

Munsell: Are you still avidly watching the NHL?

Richter: I watch it all the time. I was a fan before I was a player, and that’s how I got into the sport. I grew up in Philadelphia watching the Philadelphia Flyers win Stanley Cups and loved every minute of my playing career. I’ve got two young boys who play, so I’ll be a fan for a long time to come.

Munsell: Are you willing to make any bold predictions for the hockey season ahead?

Richter: I’m a homer. I love the Rangers. They’ve been well-coached the last few years. They have a new coach who I know very well, who’s a proven winner. They’re young, and they’re very talented. I think they’re one of the most exciting teams in hockey. So yeah, I still bleed Ranger Blue.

Munsell: I gave the opportunity to my friends who are big Rangers fans to ask you a question. So their question is: Do you have a text thread going with the former Rangers goalies like Hank [Henrik Lundqvist]?

Richter: Goalies obviously have a soft spot in my heart. I keep in touch with Hank. Really interesting guy, and I’m a big fan of his work and what he’s been doing on and off the ice over his career. I don’t quite have a thread going with him. But there aren’t too many goalies I’ve met that I don’t like. I have to say there’s a little bias there.

Mike Munsell is director of growth at Canary Media.