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Two residential modern heat pumps buried in snow

Two residential modern heat pumps buried in snow

Credit: Radu Sebastian - Alamy

Heat Pumps

Call to action:

Replace oil and gas boilers, water heaters, and traditional air conditioners with safe, efficient, all-electric heat-pump technology.

Worldwide, the majority of residential, commercial, and industrial buildings are still reliant on fossil fuels for heating and cooling. Heating and cooling buildings represents between 13 percent and 39 percent of energy use across OECD countries, with direct building operations (heating, cooling, and electricity) responsible for 28 percent of energy-related greenhouse emissions globally. Currently representing only 5 percent of heating demand, heat-pump technology represents a key way to significantly reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from buildings. If powered by renewable generated electricity, heat pumps will provide an enormous reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about the benefits of fossil fuel-free home-heating systems. In countries where individual building owners typically purchase their own HVAC systems, heat pumps are most likely the most efficient, sustainable, and cost-effective alternative. Consumer awareness about the benefits of heat-pump systems is crucial to the widespread adoption of this technology.

  • Using energy drawn from the air or the ground, heat pumps essentially function as air conditioners that can work in reverse, moving heat from inside to outside a building during the summer, and in the winter, moving heat from outside to inside a building.
  • Heat pumps can reduce your electricity use for heating by around 50 percent compared to electric resistance heating such as furnaces and baseboard heaters.
  • Across both hot and cold climates, heat pumps can effectively heat or cool indoor spaces as well as water (or both at the same time!) for a fraction of the operating costs of traditional systems. Cold-climate heat pumps can warm homes even when outdoor temperatures dip to -12ºF.
  • Heat-pump compressors are generally quieter than those in typical air conditioners, and do not generate carbon monoxide, which is harmful to air quality and human health.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy, many homeowners can save a thousand dollars a year. This piece allows you to estimate your potential savings from switching to a heat pump.
  • The Engineering Mindset has an accessible guide to the benefits of heat-pump technology, covering both air-source heat pumps, which draw energy to and from outside air, and ground-source heat pumps, which draw geothermal energy to and from the ground.

Understand the heating and cooling systems in your home and workplace. Many people are unaware of what systems heat and cool the indoor spaces where they live and work. Investigate the heating and cooling systems present in your home or workplace, as well as the service or utility providers that supply the building with fuel and electricity. If you rent an apartment or office space, ask your landlord if they have looked into energy efficiency measures such as installation of a heat pump. If you work in a large office building, ask the building manager about how they are working to retrofit and electrify the building. See Buildings Nexus for more information.

Consider a career in the sustainable heating and cooling industry. Electrifying the building sector will create millions of new job opportunities in sustainable building design, appliances, and infrastructure. Heating and cooling infrastructure needs to be upgraded and replaced. Networks like the Green Buildings Career Map can help you identify a career path working on this transition.

Speak up about the benefits of heat pumps to your friends, neighbors, and community. If you install a heat-pump system in your home, invite your friends to see how it works and encourage them to replace their home heating and cooling systems as well. Write an op-ed in your local newspaper or form a citizen’s group to advocate for stronger policies, programs, and incentives to help building owners transition away from fossil fuels.

  • This piece in The Guardian speaks with four householders who have recently installed air-source heat pumps.
  • This document outlines several community-based heating and cooling projects in the United States, including the Peaks Environmental Action Team (PEAT) group in Maine, which advocated for the installation of heat pumps in sixty-five homes over two years.

Groups

Home and Building Owners

Shift to heat pumps for your next HVAC purchase. If you are expecting your home heating, cooling, or hot water system to need replacement, consider researching and installing a heat pump instead of another fossil-fuel system. Even though 80 percent of hot water sales are for emergency replacements in California, only 1 percent of total sales are for heat-pump systems. If your furnace or hot water heater is more than ten years old, don’t wait until it fails to research your options. You can proactively identify local installers who can replace your system with a heat pump when this happens.

Install heat pumps in new buildings. If you own your home or other building, installing a heat pump system from the start is likely the most straightforward way to reduce energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and costs associated with your building. If up-front costs present a challenge, check to see if your local, regional, or national government offers any incentives, subsidies, or rebates for heat-pump installations.

Conduct energy efficiency upgrades and building retrofits. Heat pumps work best in energy-efficient homes that are properly insulated and air sealed. Investigate whether your utility company or government offers incentives for building owners to conduct an energy audit, and make sure you pursue any efficiency upgrades, such as adding insulation to a roof and replacing windows or weatherstripping, with a reputable installer. See Buildings Nexus to learn more.

Investors

Invest in sustainable HVAC businesses and projects. High heat-pump adoption rates depend on manufacturing economies of scale and improved experience of heat-pump installers, which relies on financial support from forward-thinking investors. Innovative financing methods such as Energy Service Agreements (ESAs), in which a building owner incurs zero up-front costs for a heat-pump installation and agrees to pay back the project costs through energy savings from lower utility bills, can make heat-pump projects more accessible for building owners and installers, leading to increased returns on investment.

  • BlocPower is one such company financing heat-pump installations in low-income residential buildings through ESAs in Brooklyn, New York, and across the U.S.
  • The Energie Zukunft Schweiz (Switzerland) provides financial incentives for replacing old oil or natural gas heating systems with high quality heat-pump systems.

Companies

Energy Utilities

Provide incentives for customers who switch to an electric heat pump. More electric utilities (investor owned, municipal, and cooperative) are beginning to recognize the importance of building electrification and have launched a variety of incentive programs to support their customers who switch to heat pumps.

  • Central Hudson Gas and Electric Corp. in New York State provides their customers with rebates of up to $1,300 per 10,000 BTUh on a whole-home heat air-source pump system, and up to $2,000 per 10,000 BTUh on a geothermal heat-pump system.

HVAC Installers

Learn how to install sustainable heating and cooling systems. While heat pumps are becoming more common, many contractors are not aware of recent advances in heat-pump technology and sometimes refuse to install them for customers, especially without a fossil-fuel backup system or in cold climates. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of heat pumps, their demand will likely skyrocket. If you already work within the HVAC industry, consider getting trained or certified to perform heat-pump installations.

Share heat pump best practices across the HVAC industry to drive widespread market transformation. With over 105,000 HVAC contractors in the U.S. alone, building retrofits and installation will depend on a major shift in understanding of heat-pump technology across the industry.

  • Sharing best practices, designs, and plans with other HVAC installers and suppliers will help drive up demand for heat pumps by increasing the affordability and accessibility of the materials and knowledge needed to install them.
  • Consider attending the IEA Heat Pump Conference to share and learn about new developments in technology and markets for heat pumps. You can find recordings for the last conference here.

Governance

Implement supportive legislation and provide incentives for the adoption of heat pumps. In the long term, rapid, widespread adoption of heat-pump technology will likely only be possible through a coordinated effort by governments. This transition will need to be supported by strong policies such as decarbonization targets, electrification mandates, and changes to building codes, as well as incentives like subsidies and rebate programs.

  • In 2018, the California State Assembly adopted SB1477, which provides $50 billion in funding for low-emission buildings, including the adoption of heat pumps. Additionally, California has also passed a law requiring a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels in the state’s building stock by 2030. Multiple cities in California have also passed natural gas bans and building electrification mandates through updating local building energy codes, aka “reach codes,” and the California Energy Commission recently adopted the first statewide building code that strongly incentivizes all-electric building construction.
  • The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Energy Fund has dedicated $1.2 billion to building energy efficiency and heat-pump adoption as part of a statewide building electrification initiative. The New York City Climate Mobilization Act (2019) also requires all buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets.
  • Germany’s Market Incentive Program has dedicated €300 million per year in grants and loans for small-scale renewable heat systems like heat pumps, resulting in the installation of over 1.8 million systems between 2000 and 2020.
  • In China, subsidies under the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan are helping reduce the up-front installation and equipment costs of heat pumps. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection has also introduced subsidies for air-source heat pumps across various Chinese provinces (ex., ¥24,000–29,000 per household in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanxi). A similar scheme exists in Japan through its Energy Conservation Plan.
  • The Danish Energy Agency has launched a $7 million subsidy round to support the installation of commercia-scale electric heat pumps.

Repeal existing laws and regulations that encourage or subsidize fossil-fuel infrastructure. Many places—even those with strong greenhouse gas emissions reductions goals—have outdated policies that directly or indirectly support the continued use and expansion of fossil fuels. These laws and regulations need to be repealed in order to normalize building electrification.

  • “Duty to serve” laws in Massachusetts and New York require utilities to provide gas service to customers if requested, which hinder efforts to phase out fossil-fuel services and will need to be repealed.
  • Many U.S. states are currently considering or have passed local preemption laws to limit the ability of local governments to mandate building electrification, slowing down heat-pump adoption.

Develop new financing mechanisms to encourage private sector investment in building electrification. While public funds for building electrification are becoming more available, governments must continue to signal heat pumps and building electrification as the future by facilitating investment in these sectors.

Lead by example by supporting the transition to heat pumps in publicly owned and community buildings, especially those in historically marginalized communities. Cities have long been the leaders on greenhouse gas reductions, pursuing some of the most far-reaching strategies to electrify buildings across the community.

  • In New York State, the City of Oneonta was granted a $100,000 state planning grant to develop a pilot geothermal heating district that would supply affordable housing units with carbon-free heating.
  • The Sierra Club provides a toolkit for local campaigns and governments to pursue 100 percent Clean Energy school districts.
  • In China, more than 150,000 households in Beijing were installed with air source heat pumps (ASHPs) in 2016, accounting for 76 percent of the broader coal-to-electricity initiative in China.

Raise awareness of fossil-fuel-free alternative heating systems across the community. Many residents and business owners across the globe are still underinformed about the benefits of heat pumps, as well as the resources available to them. In collaboration with community groups, local governments can distribute resources regarding potential energy and cost savings associated with heat pumps, as well as provide publicly accessible lists of local contractors who install and service heat pumps.

  • The City of Vancouver, Canada, is currently implementing a comprehensive Zero Emissions Buildings Plan that provides “catalyst tools” such as density bonuses, guidance, and technical support to building owners.

Bad Actors

The American Gas Association (AGA) is the main pro-gas lobby group in the United States and represents over two hundred energy companies. The AGA has been actively working to push the narrative that transitioning away from natural gas would raise energy prices and harm consumers, using traditional political lobbying as well as social media campaigns to shift policy and public opinion about electrification. Despite publicly asserting otherwise, an investigation by NPR revealed that AGA is actively involved in passing state-level bills to block local action on natural gas. Much of the AGA's budget comes from taxpayers through its member utilities—which means you, as a taxpayer, may be funding this work. AGA president and CEO Karen Alderman Harbert can be reached on LinkedIn and Twitter, and a likely direct email for her is kharbert@aga.org. Reach the AGA head office at 1-202-824-7000.

ENSTO-G is a group of forty-five gas companies in Europe that has an influential role in deciding which energy and infrastructure projects the EU supports. These companies are collectively lobbying Members of the European Parliament (MEP), such as Polish MEP Zdzisław Krasnodębski, to direct billions of euros in energy subsidies for natural gas. Bart Jan Hoevers is the president. He can be contacted at bart.jan.hoevers@entsog.eu.

The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) represents the interests of over seventy oil-and gas-industry companies such as Woodside, Shell Australia, and Chevron Australia. According to analysis by InfluenceMap, they estimated that about $5.5 million has been spent on climate-related lobbying that promotes the view that natural gas must remain an integral part of the future. Andrew McConville is the chief executive. His email is not publicly listed, but he can be reached on LinkedIn. The head and regional offices of the organization can be contacted through their website.

The Partnership for Energy Progress is a coalition of pro-gas groups working on anti-electrification communications across the Pacific Northwest. Their list of partner groups is here, and they can be contacted at info@pepwn.org.

Southwest Gas, a major natural-gas utility that sells natural gas to 2 million people across Arizona, California, and Nevada, worked to block the City of Flagstaff’s plans to electrify buildings. John P. Hester is the president and CEO of Southwest Gas Holdings, Inc. and Southwest Gas Corporation, and a likely direct email for him is john.hester@swgas.com. Contact the Southwest Gas headquarters at 1-877-860-602, or message their official Twitter.

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