MICHAEL MANN’S CLIMATE WAR THEME APPLIES TO THIS HEAT PUMP BATTLE
Climate scientist Michael Mann’s book THE NEW CLIMATE WAR chronicles the destruction of our planet, driven by the insatiable greed of shortsighted billionaires and powered by dirty politics and corrupt back room deals. Mann’s climate war theme is only too real for energy consultant Bob Wyman in New York State, and HRAI executive Martin Luymes in the Province of Ontario, whose organizations joined forces to battle misinformation from gas companies.
A gas company-funded research firm ‘accidentally’ misstated reality as it sought to convince US and Canadian policy planners that clean running heat pumps would overburden our electrical grid. The problem was the study contained mathematical errors and weak assumptions on the order of billions of dollars. Luymes, Wyman and geothermal associations co-operated to fight back against the monolithic gas industry which had begun rolling out the flawed study in numerous jurisdictions.
A new expensive study was ordered from, apparently, a more competent research company, Dunsky. It discovered the mathematical errors and assumptions that excluded key heat pump efficiency advantages. The new study reached the opposite conclusion, noting that heat pumps will reduce strain on the grid and save billions.
It had already been proven in Sweden
This truth had already been proven. In 1975 Sweden was using more than 9 million cubic metres of heating oil. By adopting heat pumps it reduced this by about 94% by 2014. Electricity use did not increase. It decreased nearly 30% because heat pumps are about three times more efficient than fossil fuel appliances, with virtually no carbon emissions.
Michael Mann’s book is filled with episodes like these in which oil, gas or nuclear companies ‘accidentally’ get their facts wrong and then bankroll massive PR campaigns based on this misinformation.
Can we truly electrify America?
As freak occurrences such as incredibly intense storms, fires, floods and heatwaves in the north and south poles have increased in frequency, more and more people have been showing an interest in technology that does not require fossil fuels to operate. The COVID-19 pandemic has given us pause to re-evaluate many of the assumptions about how we do things and the aggregate impacts of our actions.
More people are listening to what scientists have to say, and policy planners are looking to another group of experts — engineers. They want to know what works and what can be scaled up. One of the critical questions is: Can we truly electrify all our buildings and vehicles? What impact will it have on our electricity infrastructure?
Will Heat Pumps Overpower the Grid?
In addition to fighting against public funding for the expansion of the gas network in the northeastern US States, Wyman joined Luymes on a Canadian policy webinar in June 2020 along with some other technical experts. They recounted for officials from five ministries the New York policy story: Five years ago, if builders, homeowners and business owners wanted to move away from fossil fuels, they would be penalized under energy conservation programs. Now, many court cases and research studies later, fuel switching is a primary focus for government policy.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is providing multi-pronged support to quickly ramp up a wholesale move into cleaner buildings, both new and retrofit. It includes incentive grants, low-interest loans and training boosts for installers, designers and inspectors.
Sweden Adds Geothermal, Reduces Power Use
During the Canadian federal government exploratory, Martin Luymes, vice president of government and stakeholder relations for the Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada, reviewed the Swedish case study.
User incentive programs and training in Sweden were beefed up and, since 1994, sales of heat pumps have totalled about 40 percent to 70 percent of the HVAC system sales each year. Currently, more than half the homes in the country are heated and cooled by heat pumps, mostly ground source. Luymes presented a map of Swedish neighborhoods with numerous boreholes to dispel the myth that the ground cannot support widespread adoption. More about Sweden’s energy program can be found here.
A Whole New Grid
Electric vehicles could use up to one trillion kilowatts of power in America, or about 20 percent of the available electricity. On the face of it, this is a massive load, but again it might be too soon to see it as an insurmountable challenge. There are many complexities, variables and innovative new approaches. Three trendlines, in particular, are dramatically changing electricity generation and distribution in the world as we know it.
1. Rooftop and distributed generation. When we think about people planning for power grid capacities, we imagine public utility analysts; however, they will be much less significant in the future. The cost of solar and batteries continues to drop significantly. World events such as the pandemic, forest fires, massive storms, oil price volatility and civil unrest in the streets are all driving humanity towards off-grid or optionally off-grid solutions.
Our traditional electrical transmission and distribution infrastructure is strained, and planners are welcoming more localized, newly built networks. Rooftop and private microgrid power generation are expanding quickly worldwide. Solar PV itself is increasing efficiencies and evolving into smaller, sleeker, integrated building products. It goes beyond a Tesla roof to power-generating windows and coatings that can transform any surface into an energy creator. “Self-contained” and “energy positive” could become the new normal for buildings.
Interest in distributed generation also is driven by anyone concerned about terrorist attacks on public power infrastructure or cybercrime because mission-critical government or corporate campuses, facilities or gated residential communities can be easier to isolate, secure and protect.
2. Microgrid software and batteries. Usually categorized under the catchall “microgrid software,” a high level of development of a wide variety of load optimization functionalities will soon prove this term is too narrow. It represents only a subset of the myriad new tools that will be helping global energy planners adapt to an astonishing new electricity landscape. There are so many stories of smart systems optimizing energy efficiency, I don’t know where to start. HVAC professionals, however, can relate to one reported earlier in these pages out of Austin, Texas.
At Whisper Valley — where thousands of ultra-modern, high-tech homes are selling quickly — the local energy company calculated the loads for several models averaging about 1,700 square feet. It concluded that for cooling and heating, roughly 2.5 boreholes would be needed per house. However, in communities of several hundred homes optimized with microgrid software, this would drop by 60 percent to one borehole, so that’s what they install.
These calculations were completed without considering the impact of home batteries, which are a homeowner option and may soon be a requirement of the same community model. Given that rooftop solar is already a requirement at Whisper Valley, home batteries will reduce the load a great deal further— basically to zero or better. Each garage is equipped with an electric car charger.
3. Vehicle-to-grid. In places such as Germany and Australia, the electrification of our worldwide vehicle fleet has moved beyond the stage of theoretical opportunity to actual working models of vehicle-to-grid power-sharing. It should be called vehicle-to/from-grid because it’s based on smart load management.
Under the early pilots, homeowners with electric vehicles agree to act as part of an emergency source of backup power to the public grid a few times each month when peak load can’t be entirely satisfied, often for 15 minutes at a time. Over a given period, payments are about three times as much as it costs to charge the same vehicle, so participants drive for free plus make a profit. There’s no real effect on their lives.
It’s simply a case of unused power being shifted temporarily to where it’s needed by artificial intelligence. It’s cheaper for the utility to pay homeowners for temporarily renting their batteries than to build and operate a multi-million-dollar gas peaker plant.
Doesn’t wind and solar power cost more than coal, nuclear and gas generation? Don’t rooftop solar and batteries cost more than their utility-scale equivalents? The cost of heat pumps is reported as higher than gas heating. Electric cars still cost a little more than fuel-driven cars; governments are providing cash incentives to drive adoption. Even if our electricity system can evolve and adapt, will our state budgets be able to handle all the extra cost?
The answer is yes because, as it turns out, there is no extra cost. Fossil-fuel emissions aside, almost all new power generation is now renewables because investors have given up on coal and nuclear due to high comparative cost. Gas peaker plants will soon all be replaced by intelligent utility load management software/large-scale electricity batteries and storage because of remarkable returns and very fast paybacks on these investments.
Rooftop solar/home batteries are still relatively expensive, but it’s changing quickly at scale and off-grid benefits provide value. The lifecycle costs of an electric vehicle are less than a fossil-fuel car, and the lifecycle costs of a heat pump are the same or less than fossil-fuel heating systems