Switching to environment friendly, electrical HVAC home equipment might save Oregon $1.1B by means of 2050, research finds

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Dive Brief:

  • In Oregon, a switch to sales of only zero-emissions residential heating and cooling appliances by 2030 could nearly halve climate pollution by 2035 while increasing electricity demand from homes and buildings 13% by the middle of the century, according to a recent report from Synapse Energy Economics.
  • The report, prepared for the Sierra Club, found that making this transition could lead to $1.1 billion in gas and electric system savings for the residential and commercial sector through 2050, with cost savings beginning in 2030.
  • The city of Eugene is currently developing a local policy to wean developers off natural gas in new construction, making it the first in Oregon to do so. The state is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Dive Insight:

Meeting Oregon’s climate goals will mean reducing the carbon footprint of residential and commercial buildings, which currently produce 35% of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions, according to the report. One approach is to electrify building appliances and systems and switch to efficient electric heat pumps.

There are two types of heat pumps, according to Fred Heutte, senior policy associate with the NW Energy Coalition: those that can provide air heating and air conditioning and those that provide hot water.

“We’re poised to do a pretty big upward market transformation [with] both kinds of heat pumps in the next few years,” Heutte said, adding that the recent Synapse report builds on work that has been happening in the state for a long time. The transition to heat pumps represents a shift away from natural gas heating as well as older styles of electric resistance heating, he said, which tend to not be as efficient.

The report took a closer look at two electrification pathways: one that assumes a 100% market share for efficient electrical systems by 2025 and another that reaches that goal by 2030. The more-aggressive 2025 deadline would reduce carbon emissions by 56% by 2035, according to the report, while increasing electricity consumption 12% by 2030, and 13% by the middle of the century.

The 2030 pathway, meanwhile, would reduce emissions by 47% by 2035 while increasing electricity demand by 10% by 2030 and 13% by 2050. These efforts will likely lower energy system costs in both scenarios, the study found: The 2030 pathway is estimated to lead to $1.1 billion in savings through 2050, while the 2025 pathway saves around $1.7 billion in the same timeframe.

Heat pump technology can also help the power system by shifting load around, according to Heutte, because they can be scheduled to operate outside of peak electricity demand hours, essentially functioning like a kind of battery storage.

“In effect, what you’re doing is shifting the renewable energy from when it’s generated to when it’s needed,” he explained, by, for instance, pre-heating water or pre-cooling a house. “All those things are basically smart ways to manage the customer side of energy use.”

Moreover, the report shows that because of the high efficiency of heat pump technology, electricity consumption in residential buildings in Oregon would actually decrease even as the amount of homes using electricity for heating and water heating doubles, Dylan Plummer, senior campaign representative with Sierra Club , said in an email.

The main challenge standing in the way of widespread adoption of heat pump technology is ensuring that the financial burden of the transition does not fall on historically marginalized households, according to Plummer.

“That is why organizations across the State are working to put in place policies at all levels of government to fund targeted retrofit programs to ensure that the clean energy transition has values ​​of economic and racial equity at its core,” he said.

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