The heat pump is becoming the system of choice for sustainable comfort, helping residential, municipal and commercial facilities around the world heat and cool environments while also lowering energy costs, energy consumption and carbon footprints—which ultimately helps reduce the global impact of greenhouse gases.
What is a heat pump?
A heat pump is a system that provides heat to your home or building, similar to a furnace or boiler, but without burning fuel. Heat pumps work through the same heat transfer process and largely the same equipment as that used in air conditioners. Air conditioners use a closed loop refrigerant system to remove heat from an interior space and release it outside a building. Heat pumps simply reverse the heat flow, removing heat from the outdoors and releasing it inside a building.
Even in lower ambient conditions, heat pumps are still able to capture heat and provide it to an indoor space. Most heat pumps also are reversible, so they can provide cooling or heating based on the seasonal need. This can be a part of a very efficient heating and cooling solution that transfers up to three times more energy than it consumes.
The environmental benefits are clear, and consumers are beginning to take notice. As the world shifts to a more sustainable mindset, what will it take to create more widespread use of this technology that has already paid dividends across the world?
Managing Temperature and Comfort, Efficiently and Effectively
A staple in Europe and Asia for decades, heat pump adoption is growing rapidly across all primary heating markets, including North America. The technology has traditionally been applied in milder climates, where the temperature does not drop below freezing for long.
Managing both temperature and comfort is a challenge facing any heating and cooling system. But it’s a challenge heat pumps can handle in climates around the world, as heat pump technology evolves. Consider Florida, where temperatures are hot and humid in the summer, but cooler in the winter.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Florida’s per capita residential electricity demand is among the highest in the country, due in part to high air conditioning use during the summer and the fact that about 90% of Florida households use electricity for heating. More Florida homeowners are turning to heat pump systems, due to their ability to deliver up to a 40% savings on energy bills without sacrificing comfort. In fact, nearly 40% of new system installs in Florida are heat pumps. And leading contractors like that heat pumps are both an easy sell and an easy install.
Beyond space heating, heat pumps also are used to heat water in commercial and residential buildings. Emerson’s products and solutions helped to usher in a new chapter in energy savings for Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) in Mumbai, India. As part of a pilot project, VJTI installed heat pumps in student hostels to generate 5,000 liters of hot water each day, while delivering up to 72% energy savings compared to traditional water heating systems.
Innovating to Meet Heating and Cooling Needs Worldwide
While heat pump technology is not new, there have been advances over the past 20 years that have enabled their use in colder climates and increased their overall energy efficiency. And more consumers and businesses are considering environmentally responsible ways to heat and cool homes and other buildings—with heat pumps emerging as a strong path forward given the latest technological advances.
The primary advancement is in the compressor. The heart of heat pumps and air conditioners, compressors drive the refrigerant cycle and consume the largest amount of energy within the heat pump system. A leader in compression technology, Emerson has advanced heating and cooling technologies with compressors designed to help heat pumps deliver the highest performance for home comfort.
Prior to these compression innovations, single-speed compressors limited heat pump applications to regions where the heating and cooling needs were close to equivalent—more moderate climates without wide temperature swings. But now, through the use of modulated technology such as two-stage and variable-speed compressors, heat pumps run more efficiently and can be installed in a wider range of geographies.
By maintaining capacity at low ambient temperatures, systems equipped with Emerson’s Copeland variable-speed or two-stage compressors deliver hotter supply air, a key comfort benefit for heat pumps. In addition, with variable-speed or two-stage compressors, summer humidity control is significantly improved, with homeowners benefiting from an almost immediate 20% to 25% reduction in humidity. Copeland compressors also provide diagnostics and protection capabilities to improve ease of service and system reliability. More than 200 million Copeland scroll compressors, many used in heat pumps, have been installed worldwide—more than any other scroll compressor brand.
Meeting the Demand for Sustainable Solutions
As the world focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, heat pumps are readily available solutions to help meet the demand for more sustainable space and water heating. The technology even received a shoutout from Bill Gates in his 2021 book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, who believes we need to be faster and smarter about using heat pumps and other current technologies to make a meaningful contribution to decarbonization.
The good news is we’ve already started adopting heat pump technology. Almost 180 million heat pumps were used for heating in 2020, as the global stock increased nearly 10% per year over the past five years. That number is only expected to grow as governments around the world push to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.
New legislation, incentives and tax rebates—from utility grid updates included in the United States’ Build Back Better framework to homeowner heat pump grants in the U.K. to a pledge in Germany where every new home heating system must run on 65% renewable energy by 2025—will heavily influence technology selection toward low-carbon solutions like heat pumps over fossil-fuel boilers and furnaces.
Better comfort, energy and cost savings, and a desire for environmental responsibility are driving more consumers and businesses to install heat pumps too. These individual decisions can have a big impact. Take for example commercial buildings. Heating and cooling account for 30% of CO2 emissions in commercial settings; that number increases to 38% for residential. Water heating is another large source of emissions, representing 15% of CO2 emissions in the residential sector, according to EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2018.
Switching to a heat pump can be an energy-efficient alternative to fossil-fuel furnaces and water heaters that use natural gas and heating oil, which emit CO2 directly. Heat pumps also are more efficient than electric resistance heat. Switching from fossil fuel heat-generating devices, such as furnaces and boilers, to an efficient electric heat pump can be step toward a zero-carbon system.
A second, more impactful step comes as countries build out 100% renewable electrical generation grids to power heat pumps and other residential electrical devices. Transitioning from fossil fuel-based heat to electric heat pumps also reduces indirect carbon emissions if the power generated comes from a cleaner source such as wind, solar, hydro or nuclear.
Continued Growth for Years to Come
Around the world and across the United States, the demand for heat pumps is growing as more innovative heat pump technologies are being developed to offer increased energy efficiency and provide additional heating capacity to colder, northern climates. These innovations, coupled with consumer interest and government decarbonization initiatives, point to continued growth of the heat pump market for years to come.
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