As I post this article by Stephen Leahy, there’s a heat pump being installed in our home. This will complete another step on our path to decarbonization coming after the purchase of an electric vehicle (six months ago) and the replacement of a gas range with an induction stove top and oven. In Save Money, Energy and the Climate by Ghosting Gas, Leahy points out six benefits of heat pumps.
Heat Pumps Bring Savings
Three benefits of installing a heat pump in your home
- Save $500 to $1000 on annual heating/cooling costs.
- Big reduction in carbon emissions — equivalent to taking one to two cars off the road.
- Better air quality in your home and neighbourhood.
Need-to-Know: Heat pumps move heat rather than generate it
A heat pump operates like an air conditioner, using a compressor, and a refrigerant. Instead of transferring heat inside a building to the outdoors, a heat pump reverses that, taking heat from outside and bringing it inside. And yes, a heat pump can go the other way and work as an air conditioner.
Heat pumps can extract heat even in cold weather (-15 degrees C to -30 degrees C) but use more energy to do so. Very cold climates would require a supplemental heat source. (If there was no heat in the atmosphere, the temperature of the Earth would reach absolute zero or -273 degrees C.)
Need-to-Know: Heat pumps are 3 to 4 times more energy efficient
Since they run on electricity, heat pumps have far better energy efficiency than a gas furnace, and far less carbon emissions, even when the electricity is generated by coal. Here’s why:
For each unit (kilowatt) of electricity consumed by a heat pump, about 4 units (kilowatts) of thermal energy is produced, which corresponds to a 300% efficiency. A conventional gas furnace or boiler is 80-95% efficient and direct electric heating only 35- 45%.
Three more very good reasons to switch to a heat pump
- Gas heating produces a range of pollutant by-products with serious health implications for children. I wrote about the many health issues with using gas heating, fireplaces and stoves last year. [See NtK: Get Rid of Your Gas and Live Longer.]
- At least 5% of global gas production leaks from pipelines and other infrastructure, representing a major source of methane emissions into the atmosphere. Methane is a super-climate warmer, 85 times more potent than CO2 on a 20-year time frame.
- Gas leaks can cause explosions. The U.S. averages 286 serious gas explosions each year causing fatalities or serious property damage. Over a recent six-month span, nine explosions killed four people and injured 13 in the U.K.
Heat pumps could provide 90% of global building space and water heating needs but only provide 7% currently, according to International Energy Agency (IEA).
Need-to-Know: Heat pumps make the biggest dent in household carbon emissions
A typical American household could reduce their carbon emissions between 53 and 67% by replacing a gas furnace with a heat pump, according to the first comprehensive comparison study. The energy savings range between $600 and $1000 a year.
Who loves heat pumps?
- China has 33% of the world’s heat pumps, followed by North America, mainly the U.S. at 23%, with Europe at 12%.
- The four European countries with the largest share of heat pumps have the coldest winters: Norway (60% of households), Sweden (43% of households), Finland (41% of households) and Estonia (34% of households).
- Sales of heat pumps in Europe soared by more than 40% in 2022 and are expected to grow at least as much this year because of high gas prices.
- Globally sales were up 11% last year.
Need-to-Know: Heat pump purchases now exceed those of gas furnaces in Europe and the U.S.
Heat pumps are on course to replace gas and oil heating in homes and buildings for all the reasons I listed. Europe, the U.S., Canada, among others, now offer incentives to help people install heat pumps under various carbon-reduction plans.
- U.S.: The Biden administration Inflation Reduction Act includes incentives of up to $3,000 for heat pumps. (See here for more energy-saving incentives.)
- Canada: Greener Homes Grant — loans and rebates up to $6500.
- Europe: Well, a lot countries, so I’m not going to list them. Here’s a guide to subsidies for residential heat pumps for the European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Switzerland.
Buildings need to be net-zero carbon by 2050 to meet climate targets. Heat pumps can cut building emissions in half or more. And, by eliminating the need for gas hook-ups in buildings, reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution. [See NtK Buildings: Our Biggest Climate Challenge ]
Energy efficiency retrofits also need to accelerate to ensure that new heat pumps installed in existing buildings are as efficient as possible and not oversized. This will lower upfront and operating costs and reduce strains on power systems.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.