Are ‘Heat Pumps’ the Answer to Heat Waves? Some Cities Think So.


Many climate experts say long term solution replacing many of these fossil-fuel devices with electric versions powered by a greener grid. But in practice this is difficult. More than a dozen mostly red states are rewriting their building codes to ban new buildings from using gas, as cities like Berkeley they passed laws expressly prohibiting cities from doing this. And that still leaves the question of what to do about the millions of existing homes.

Stephen Pantano, chief research fellow CLASP said that encouraging people to install heat pumps when they are going to buy central air conditioning could be a less intrusive way to get started with electric heating. “We found that a relatively small investment of around $3 billion to $12 billion nationwide could have a huge impact on energy use,” he said of the group’s new proposal. “It’s hard to find many ideas that deliver so much value for money.”

An even more drastic strategy would be to figure out how to replace more gas furnaces with heat pumps so that the heat pump handles nearly all of the heating and cooling, he added. However, this may require larger heat pumps or additional electrical upgrades and other retrofits for many homes. His group’s proposal to simply replace air conditioners is a more modest first step.

Berkeley, who pioneered the idea of ​​banning gas in new buildings, is now considering this approach. Currently, only 10 percent of homes in the city have air conditioning, but officials estimate that rate could triple in the coming warm years. “Berkeley should work with air conditioning installers and heat pump manufacturers to ensure these homes install heat pump systems instead,” officials wrote. in a final draft strategy To electrify existing homes.

“This is a great idea,” said Jigar Shah, who heads the Department of Energy’s loan programs office. His office is exploring ways to help low-income Americans adopt technologies like heat pumps. “Heat pumps are not an untested technology,” he said. “We really are in a place where the time has come to scale that up.”

Others were more careful. “There are places where electrification can be beneficial and places where it might not be, and there are many details that need to be worked out,” said Francis Dietz, spokesperson for the Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute. industry trade group. For example, if more homes rely on heat pumps rather than gas ovens, this could strain power grids in the winter, especially in colder parts of the country.

There are other hurdles: Many Americans are still unfamiliar with heat pumps, and some have had bad experiences with older models that don’t work well in cold weather. heat pump technology has improved significantly in the last ten years, many contractors continue to be wary of these. And of course, the name “heat pump” doesn’t sound like a device you want to install when it gets overwhelming.


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