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Heat pumps: what they do and why they’re hot now Part 2

Views: 5000     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-08-29      Origin: Site

Heat pumps: what they do and why they’re hot now Part 2

THAT SOUNDS SURPRISINGLY LOW-TECH. HAVEN’T HEAT PUMPS BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE?

Yup. Austrian engineer Peter von Rittinger designed and installed the first documented heat pump system in the 1850s. The first electric ground-source heat pump is credited to American inventor Robert C. Webber, who was tinkering with a deep freezer in his cellar in the late 1940s when he realized it produced scalding water. Not wanting to waste the hot water, he diverted that to his boiler and eventually designed a system to heat his whole home.

Even though heat pumps have been around for a long time, they haven’t become mainstream. In 2020, they only fulfilled 7 percent of global heating demand. Over the years, other technologies that many people have become more familiar with — i.e., air conditioning and furnaces — became more affordable to buy and install. In many places, it was also cheaper to heat your home with gas than electricity. Plus, heat pumps haven’t always worked as well in very cold places as they do in milder climates.

WHY ARE WE HEARING SO MUCH ABOUT HEAT PUMPS NOW?

First off, the technology has improved. And that’s made heat pumps seemingly ideal for grappling with several crises the world faces today.

Both the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine have contributed to a global gas crunch. It’s gotten much more expensive to heat your home with gas or rely on a gas-fired power plant to keep the lights on.

That energy crisis is really stark in Europe, where the cost of gas has risen from around $5 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) to $55 per MMBtu over the past couple of years alone. A big part of the problem is that Europe has historically been very reliant on Russia for its supply of natural gas. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the bloc has tried to quit that addiction — and electric heat pumps are a big part of that plan. Gas is currently the fuel Europe uses the most for its heating, and much of that gas has historically come from Russia. The European Commission wants to double the rate at which it’s deploying heat pumps, with a goal of deploying 10 million units over the next five years.

THAT’S MADE HEAT PUMPS SEEMINGLY IDEAL FOR GRAPPLING WITH SEVERAL CRISES

This is an acceleration of another transition that was already underway. One of the main strategies to slow climate change is to electrify everything — from cars to buildings. That way, they can run on clean, renewable energy like wind and solar once those power sources displace fossil fuels on the grid. Some cities — like Berkeley, California — have even banned new gas hookups in homes and buildings.

Heat pumps became an obvious alternative to old-school gas and oil heating. So, efforts to promote heat pump adoption are peppered throughout a lot of proposed climate policies. The giant climate bill Democrats are working to pass, called the Inflation Reduction Act, for instance, includes up to an $8,000 rebate for income-eligible Americans who install a new heat pump in their home. Anyone who doesn’t qualify for the rebate can still get a tax credit of up to $2,000 for installing a heat pump.

ARE HEAT PUMPS GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?

For the most part, yes. They’re electric appliances, so they can run on clean energy like we mentioned above. But the environmental benefits still depend on how clean the grid they’re connected to is. If you have a grid that is still dominated by coal and gas — which many still are — then that electricity isn’t very clean. At least not yet. The climate case for heat pumps is forward-looking. The thought is that if people switch from gas over to heat pumps while the grid is getting cleaned up, then countries can get to their climate goals much faster. More than 30 countries and the European Union have entrenched a goal in law or policy of reaching net zero carbon dioxide emissions. And more than 100 countries have made similar proposals but are still working to adopt policies to reach those goals.


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