In New England, building heating and cooling account for roughly one-third of energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We are highly dependent on fossil fuels for heating, with natural gas and delivered fuels (i.e., oil and propane) accounting for the vast majority of usage. Getting to 100% renewable energy will require two steps:
First, reduce heating and cooling loads through investments in efficiency. Most buildings built before 2000 are inefficient and lose considerable heat in the winter. As outlined in the Efficiency section of the Guidebook, improving the building shell and insulation of all existing buildings is crucial to achieving a renewable future. In the short run better buildings will reduce consumption of whatever fuel is currently being used. In the intermediate to longer run it will enable Connecticut to move away from combustion as a source of heating and towards heat pump technology.
Second, replace fossil fuels with clean, low carbon electricity to heat and cool our buildings. Sometimes called “strategic electrification”, this step entails supplementing and eventually replacing fossil fuel equipment currently used for heating and cooling with heat pumps. Heat pumps are a form of efficient electric heating for both residential and commercial buildings. They use air-to-air exchangers or ground-source loops to transfer heat between the inside and outside of the building. Because they are moving heat rather than generating it through combustion or electric resistance, heat pumps can achieve efficiencies well above 100%. Long used for cooling in warm climates, heat pumps are now able to provide efficient heating in cold climates even at outdoor temperatures as low as -15 °F.
Electrification of heating and cooling brings a range of health benefits to both residents and businesses, including cleaner air, better control of temperature and humidity, improved acoustics (i.e., quieter), lower carbon monoxide risk and reduced risk of fire.
The transition of both residents and businesses away from boilers, furnaces, and resistance heating to heat pumps has been slow to date. While future developments hold significant promise for heat pumps in both the residential and commercial sectors, there are currently barriers to greater adoption, including:
As a result of these challenges, most residential heat pump installations in the Northeast are not whole-home heating replacement, but supplement existing systems. Such systems can be installed at any time, not only when the entire system needs replacement. And, for such projects, weatherization improvements may not be necessary for the entire house. Other common applications include:Read More
Towns and cities have an opportunity to accelerate this transition through a range of policies, regulations and programs. A valuable first step is to carry out a Baseline Energy Assessment, including an analysis of the existing building stock to determine what heating fuels are currently used. This information provides a foundation for creating a heat pump implementation plan.
Based on this information, educational and promotion campaigns can provide residents and businesses reliable, objective information on a range of issues, including:
Further, town officials can review permitting processes, fees and tax policy regarding energy upgrades to reduce barriers, lower soft costs and incentivize transition to heat pumps.
In order to shed light on the relative operating costs of heat pumps compared to other fuels, PACE has developed a spreadsheet that compares the annual fuel cost for heating for different fuels. The spreadsheet is included in the resources section below. While this comparison depends on several assumptions (e.g., efficiencies of the gas furnace and heat pump and energy prices), it suggests that a heat pump is slightly more expensive to operate than a natural gas furnace, but is significant less expensive than oil, propane and electric resistance. The table below shows a comparison of these four heating fuels for a given set of assumptions, and is intended to illustrative only. Download the spreadsheet and use assumptions specific to your application; feel free to Contact Us for assistance.