Prime The Pump: New Report Hypes Heat Pumps To Help Decarbonize Buildings

Heat pumps offer one of the best ways to cut carbon in homes and commercial buildings, energy and climate experts say in a new report.

The report, published this month by Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, suggests that heat pumps could significantly reduce the nation’s fossil fuel emissions if coupled with regulatory policies like carbon taxes.

“Air source heat pumps (ASHPs) are powered by electricity, using well-established technology to move heat from outdoor air to indoor air,” the report says. “When powered by zero-carbon electricity, ASHPs provide space heating with almost no greenhouse gas emissions.”

According to the EPA, commercial and residential buildings account for roughly 12 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Bruce Nilles, a building electrification expert with the Rocky Mountain Institute, says heat pumps represent a win-win solution.

“An air source heat pump is typically three to four times more efficient than the most efficient gas appliance on the market. And that’s one of the reasons it allows you to save money at the same time you’re doing right by the environment,” he said.

And they run on electricity, which Nilles points out is getting increasingly cleaner as utilities ditch coal. But Nilles says one of the biggest hurdles to adoption of heat pumps in the U.S. is a lack of consumer awareness and political will.

“Many states are still incentivizing the use of fossil fuels,” he said.

Some entities in the Mountain West, such as the City of Boulder and the Southeast Colorado Power Association, have programs incentivizing the use of air source heat pumps. But those programs remain far and few between.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.