Heat pumps are increasingly recognized as a critical technology for decarbonization.
The global stock of heat pumps has increased quite steadily over the past few years, particularly in primary heating markets — North America, Europe, and northern and eastern Asia. About 190 million heat pump units were in operation in buildings worldwide in 2021. Last year, global sales of heat pumps grew by 11%, marking a second year of double-digit growth for the central technology in the world’s transition to secure and sustainable heating. US consumers in 2022 installed 4 million ultra-low-carbon heating and cooling heat pumps — beating out gas furnaces for the first time.
Other than climate objectives, energy security is an important driver for heat pumps, with increasing policy attention in 2022. Part of the deployment is also driven by the heat pump’s space cooling capacity.
A challenge exists, though, to further adoption of the clever little heat pump — many folks have no idea what a heat pump is, a whole lot of people who have some notion don’t realize it also cools, and many in the US don’t know that the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers benefits toward heat pump purchases.
A recent tongue-in-cheek Washington Post article suggested renaming the heat pump would help many consumers to understand its line of functions — “electric heater cooler machines.” “IcyHot fan blasters.” “Clean green comfort machine.” “Two-way air conditioner.” “Heaty McPumpface.” (What do you think would be a good nickname for a heat pump?)
Also, because heat pumps don’t have the allure of conspicuous consumption symbolism, it’s hard to attract new buyers to heat pumps. They’re not flashy like a shiny new car in the driveway, or sultry like this season’s Gucci’s shoes, or classic like a delicate Cartier bracelet.
Perhaps the cachet of a heat pump will rise with its owner’s status as someone dedicated to climate action, someone who joins in with others to tackle the adverse effects of climate pollution by making making substantive energy changes in their own homes.
A CleanTechnica Exclusive: The “Value of Innovative Heat Pumps”
We had a chance to connect with David Rames, senior product manager at Midea America, to chat about the heat pumps and to get an insider’s look at how consumers are responding to this new heating and cooling device.
1. How would you describe the virtues of heat pumps to someone who has absolutely no familiarity with them?
Heat pump technology provides efficient cooling and heating from a single unit by moving heat between the indoor and outdoor spaces depending on the season. The process is achieved through a refrigeration cycle, which can be up to 4 times more efficient than traditional heating systems. Basically, heat pumps transfer the heat outside from inside the house, cooling off your home during the summer. During the cooler season, they take the heat from outside and bring it inside to warm your home. Heat pumps are a more efficient, affordable, and environmentally friendly way to heat and cool your home.
2. What lessons have you learned over the course of delivering heat pumps to customers who haven’t much — if any — prior knowledge of their possibilities?
Heat pumps, by nature, cost more than air conditioners. In order to drive the consumer to make the change, you have to incentivize them – which we’re seeing through Inflation Reduction Act tax credits and rebates from utility companies. You also need to educate them about technical advances in today’s heat pumps, such as the Midea EVOX, which is capable of 100% heating input in temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit. The latest heat pumps will heat and cool your home without the use of fossil fuels, providing both efficiency and comfort. Contractors should ask for this training because there’s going to be more and more inverter technology penetration into the market in the future.
3. What is your analysis of the Airbnb pilot program to enhance heat pump installations, insulation projects, and air sealing?
The pilot program will demonstrate the value of innovative heat pumps to consumers who aren’t familiar with them, prompting them to make the change in their own homes. The Airbnb program will also put pressure on the hotel industry to switch from older PTAC air conditioners to new heat pumps.
4. Airbnb is piggybacking on the Mass Save program, which is available for all MA homeowners. How can programs like this become more well-known? What potential impact do they have on homeowners’ ability to add a heat pump to their HVAC repertoires?
Education can come directly from the government or be disseminated through media like yourself! Between making the programs more accessible online (B2C) and making more contractors aware of these programs to educate their clients (B2B), all Massachusetts homeowners must be aware that these programs exist. Programs like Mass Save significantly impact homeowners’ ability to install heat pumps in their homes by making the cost of the upgrades more affordable, so we have to spread awareness of the incentives and rebates. We must emphasize that heat pumps are long term, cost efficient investments that will save homeowners over time through lesser monthly energy bills.
5. What kind of savings do homeowners accrue after they’ve used the heat pumps for a season or two?
Various factors can affect how much you save, including the climate, the size of your home, the efficiency of the heat pump, and the energy rates in the area. The AHRI estimated that the most recent heat pump technology can significantly lower consumer’s annual energy bills up to 30% compared to a conventional system — without sacrificing any comfort. Additionally, the US government’s push for advanced, green-source systems is encouraging consumers to change to highly efficient heat pumps given the very attractive consumer rebates and incentives, many of which Midea products are eligible for.
6. Your IN Ceiling Cassette is very appealing from a design perspective. How did your company come up with this? How are customers responding?
We wanted to create an efficient and stylish product, and we accomplished both goals. The flexible installation capability without duct work is ideal for a whole home addition or conversion, and it maintains an industry-exclusive compact size. Our mission was to make an aesthetically pleasing product that produces comfortable air while fitting sleekly into a room. The response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive.
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