Two new bills could help make heat pumps affordable

Heat waves are getting worse due to climate change, affecting typically cold places like Seattle and parts of Europe. Places already accustomed to tropical temperatures, including India and Pakistan, are experiencing near unlivable conditions.

With worsening heat comes a steady demand for air conditioning units, which is expected to triple by 2050. In 2016, only 8% of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest regions of the world have access to air conditioning. But that number is growing, and increased use leads to higher energy consumption, which can add even more pressure on the climate.

Fortunately, there are better options for cooling buildings efficiently and even saving money on utilities, which is crucial for vulnerable communities that already pay a high price for energy. Heat pumps can both cool and heat a building more efficiently than air conditioners or furnaces, reduce energy bills and reduce heating-related emissions by 45-72%. The technology was first invented in the 1850s; Today, Americans buy millions of heat pumps a year, although air conditioning is by far the most popular. But a pair of new bills in Congress may just be the ticket to installing heat pumps in more homes.

The first of two bills, titled the “Installing Clean Efficient Energy Hastens Our Transition” or ICEE HOT Act, creates a reimbursement system for heating, ventilation and air conditioning distributors. The second, titled Heating Efficiency and Affordability through Tax Relief Act (HEATR), provides a tax incentive for manufacturers to produce efficient and affordable heat pumps. With heat pumps as a more affordable alternative to AC units, making the switch may be more realistic for average people.

“Far too many households in our state are struggling to pay their heating costs. Families shouldn’t have to choose between paying for heat and other basic necessities,” Senior Senator Amy Klobuchar, DM.N., said in a news release last week. “This legislation is a win-win: it reduces energy costs for consumers while increasing access to clean and energy-efficient heating solutions. »

[Related: How heat pumps can help fight global warming]

But to understand the benefits of heat pumps, it is crucial to know how they work. According to sustainability research group Carbon Switch, the process is quite simple: an evaporator captures heat from inside your home and sends it outside. The system is made up of an outdoor and indoor unit, as well as a compressor that moves refrigerant through the system, and two valves that can pressurize the refrigerant or reverse its flow to switch from heating to cooling.

This happens thanks to a very simple physical concept: heat is always trying to move towards cold air, which is more or less how air conditioners and refrigerators work. But a heat pump can reverse this process in the winter. Colder temperatures put pressure on the system refrigerant. The heat pump then absorbs the heat it can find outside to transform the liquid into gas. The energy generated by this process is used to keep home interiors comfortable in the coldest climates. In fact, icy places like Norway and Finland have the highest rate of heat pumps per household in Europe; Maine beats them both with its per capita usage.

Even in cold weather, a heat pump can permanently replace a furnace. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Installing a few heat pumps might not seem like a big deal. But research published by nonprofit Clasp, which specializes in appliance efficiency, shows that growing the technology’s market share from 10% to 44% by 2032 could save Americans money. approximately $27 billion on their energy bills. It could also provide $80 billion in “additional social benefits”, stop 888 premature air quality deaths per year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 49 million tonnes.

Old-school HVAC systems can last up to two decades after installation. So rather than waiting for them to sputter, these new congressional bills could encourage plumbers and homeowners to trade in heat pumps, the Clasp study authors wrote recently in Canary Media. “Locking up obsolete infrastructure in this way sets back the time for American decarbonization by decades,” they explained. Often people don’t even have to throw out their entire heating or cooling system to install a heat pump. Creating hybrid systems or using fossil fuel furnaces as backup can further reduce energy consumption.

In a world where weather is unpredictable, fuel prices are volatile, and climate change can impact just about anything, being able to maintain safe temperatures at home in a sustainable way is crucial. Heat pumps offer an option for people of any income level and in any region.

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