In an epic case of perfect timing, Consumer News it just released a new report on heat pumps on July 19, and just a day later, President Biden’s historic climate emergency statement included heat pumps. Well, that was just a small mention. And to be clear, the announcement was not an emergency declaration. Still, it’s another sign that decarbonization is going mainstream, with or without the help of US Senator Joe Manchin.
President Biden declared a climate emergency, almost
In his July 20 announcement, President Biden came close to declaring a climate emergency.
“Today, President Biden will reiterate that climate change is a clear and present danger to the United States,” the White House explained. “Because Congress is not acting in this emergency, President Biden will.” In the coming weeks, President Biden will announce additional executive actions to combat this emergency.
Right back at you, Congress. Indeed, the Democratic majority in the House passed the president’s Build Back Better climate action bill last fall, even though zero Republicans supported it. But they can’t secure a Democratic majority in the Senate to pass the bill without Sen. Manchin (D-WV) on board, and the senator’s various involvements with the fossil energy industry appear to be getting in the way.
Heat pumps to the rescue!
Where were we? Sure, heat pumps. The emergency notice will appear in the Department of Health and Human Services section regarding the administration of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
LIHEAP is better known as the Heating Assistance Program for Income-Eligible Households. The new guidelines make it clear that cooling assistance is also necessary.
The new LIHEAP guidelines specifically mention high efficiency air source heat pumps as “the most energy efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners for all climate zones.”
“The guidance provides a number of flexible options including increased funding for cooling assistance through the US rescue plan; establishing community cooling centers; and purchasing, distributing, or lending efficient air conditioners, evaporative coolers, and electric heat pumps—more energy efficient alternatives to providing cooling services—to at-risk households and individuals,” the White House explains.
Why are heat pumps so special?
With the new climate emergency announcement packed with all sorts of other news, it’s fair to ask why the fuss over heat pumps. After all, heat pumps are already quite common, at least in some areas.
The big difference lies in technological improvements in recent years that allow heat pumps to operate more efficiently in a wider range of climates. This makes heat pumps a key tool in the building electrification movement in virtually every region of the US.
As electrical devices, heat pumps replace fossil energy for space heating and cooling. They are also applied to hot water heaters and clothes dryers. They make it more likely that more jurisdictions will begin banning gas hookups for new construction.
Taking the electricity angle to the next level, they can be deployed as elements in virtual power plants and have been identified by the US Department of Energy as a critical pathway in the transition to a sustainable energy profile.
Another question: Where will all the electricity come from?
If heat pumps are the next big thing, it’s also fair to ask where all the extra electricity for the millions of new heat pumps will come from. Hopefully not from new fossil power plants. This is where other climate emergency announcement news comes in.
It’s no coincidence, of course, that President Biden traveled to a decommissioned coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts to announce a new set of climate emergency measures. Massachusetts is just one of several states along the Northeast Atlantic coast that are finally starting to tap into their vast offshore wind potential.
States at the southern end of the coast have been somewhat less aggressive in pursuing offshore wind for reasons best known only to the elected officials who make those decisions. However, like it or not, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management still has the authority to lease and lease areas in federal waters for offshore wind farms.
“The previous administration cast doubt on the future of offshore wind and other clean energy development off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina,” the White House explained. “Today, President Biden is directing the Secretary of the Interior to advance clean energy development in these federal waters — to ensure these Southeastern states can benefit from good-paying jobs in the growing offshore wind industry.”
More offshore wind power for the US Southeast
More clean kilowatts is especially important for the Southeast US as the climate warms and demand for air conditioning continues to grow. When it comes to wind energy resources in the area, offshore is a particularly important piece of the puzzle because onshore wind resources in the region are suboptimal. Taller wind turbine towers and other technological fixes will eventually make onshore wind more economical in the Southeast, but offshore wind is the name of the game for now.
With that in mind, the Biden administration is also engaging the Gulf of Mexico in the push for more offshore wind. Wind speeds in the Persian Gulf are less than optimal, but as early as 2020, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory mapped out scenarios that could be the basis for offshore wind in the Persian Gulf.
At the time, Louisiana was the only Gulf state to jump on the potential to get rid of offshore wind. In a new climate emergency announcement, the White House announced that Texas would also be part of the plan:
“The administration will seek public input on two potential wind energy sites – one off the coast of Galveston, Texas, and another off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana.” The review area covers more than 700,000 acres with the potential to power more than three million homes with clean energy,” the White House said.
Texas, heat pumps and a way out of this mess
If Texas’ interest in offshore wind is a little shocking, we were surprised too! A 2020 NREL analysis did not reveal a solid economic case for offshore wind in Texas, in part due to competition from other energy sources.
But a hint of things to come emerged last year when a group of Texas energy stakeholders began talking about a green hydrogen hub, harnessing the state’s considerable solar and offshore wind resources along with its existing energy infrastructure. New offshore wind farms could be added to the mix, so stay tuned for more information.
Meanwhile, on July 19 Consumer News the heat pump article is worth reading.
“Heat pumps are in the limelight – or as close as heating and cooling equipment can get,” they noted. “Whether it’s ducted heat pumps, mini-splits, or even geothermal systems, there’s a buzz around this climate-friendly HVAC technology.”
You can find all the details in the article. Along with a few caveats and a buying guide (CR members also get access to reliability and customer satisfaction ratings), they explain why heat pumps are more environmentally friendly, why they typically save money, how easy they are to install, and why they perform better than conventional HVAC in terms of about maintaining a comfortable temperature.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (cropped): Heat pump courtesy of the US Department of Energy.
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