In an epic state of perfect timing, Consumer Reports It issued a new report on heat pumps on July 19, and just one day later, President Biden’s history-making climate emergency declaration included heat pumps. Well, that’s a little noted. And to be clear, the announcement was not a state of emergency. Still, it’s another indication that decarbonization is going mainstream, with or without the help of US Senator Joe Manchin.
President Biden Almost Declared a Climate Emergency
In his statement on July 20, President Biden came very close to declaring a climate emergency.
“Today, President Biden will reiterate that climate change is a clear and present threat to the United States,” the White House said. “Since Congress has not acted in this emergency, President Biden will.” In the coming weeks, President Biden will announce additional executive actions to combat this emergency.
Right on you, Congress. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives did indeed pass the President’s Better Climate Action Bill last fall, although zero Republican members supported it. However, without Senator Manchin (D-WV), they cannot secure a full Democratic majority in the Senate to pass the bill, and the senator’s various preoccupations with the fossil energy industry are preventing it.
Heat pumps to the rescue!
Where were we? Oh, heat pumps. In the emergency declaration, they open a section about the Department of Health and Human Services about administering assistance under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program.
LIHEAP is more commonly known as the heating assistance program for income-eligible households. The new guidance clarifies that cooling assistance is also important.
The new LIHEAP guide specifically mentions high-efficiency air source heat pumps as “the most energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners for all climate zones.”
“The administration provides a number of flexible options, including increasing funding for cooling assistance through the American Rescue Plan; establishing community cooling centers; and purchasing, distributing, or lending efficient air conditioning equipment, evaporative coolers, and electric heat pumps to vulnerable households and individuals—a more energy-efficient alternative to providing cooling services,” the White House explained.
Why are heat pumps so special?
Given that the new climate emergency declaration is loaded with all sorts of other news, it’s fair to ask why all the fuss about heat pumps. After all, heat pumps are quite common, at least in some areas.
The big difference is that technology has improved in recent years, allowing heat pumps to operate more efficiently in a wider range of climates. This makes heat pumps a key tool in building electrification in nearly every region of the United States.
As electrical appliances, heat pumps replace fossil energy for space heating and cooling. They also apply to hot water heaters and clothes dryers. They make it more likely that more jurisdictions will begin banning gas connections for new construction.
Taking the electricity angle to the next level, they can be deployed as elements in virtual power plants, and the US Department of Energy has identified them as an important pathway in the transition to a sustainable energy profile.
Next Question: Where Will All the Electricity Come From?
If heat pumps are the next big thing, it’s also fair to ask where the extra electricity for the millions of new heat pumps will come from. Hopefully, not from new fossil power plants. Here’s where other news on the climate emergency declaration comes in.
It’s no coincidence that President Biden visited a decommissioned coal power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts, to announce a new set of emergency climate measures. Massachusetts is one of the few states on the northeast Atlantic coast that is finally starting to tap into its vast offshore wind potential.
States at the southern tip of the coast have been somewhat less aggressive in their pursuit of offshore wind for reasons best known only to the elected officials who make these decisions. However, whether they like it or not, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management still has the authority to, and does, lease sites in federal waters for offshore wind farms.
“The previous Administration created uncertainty about the future of offshore wind and other clean energy development off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina,” the White House said. “Today, President Biden is directing the Secretary of the Interior to advance clean energy development in these federal waters — ensuring that southeastern states can benefit from good-paying jobs in the booming offshore wind industry.”
So that. There.
More Offshore Wind Power for the US Southeast
Cleaner kilowatts are especially important for the southeastern United States as the climate warms and demand for air conditioning continues to grow. Offshore is a particularly important puzzle in terms of wind energy resources in the region, as onshore wind resources in the region are less than optimal. Taller wind turbine towers and other technological tweaks will eventually make onshore wind more cost-effective in the Southeast, but for now, offshore wind is the name of the game.
With that in mind, the Biden administration is also targeting the Gulf of Mexico for more offshore wind. Wind speeds in the Gulf are far from optimal, but in 2020, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory compiled scenarios that could create a baseline for offshore wind in the Gulf.
At the time, Louisiana was the only Gulf state to jump at the potential of offshore wind development. In a new climate emergency declaration, 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 the other off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The review area covers more than 700,000 acres and has the potential to power more than three million homes with clean energy,” the White House said.
Texas, Heat pumps and the way out of this mess
If the interest in Texas offshore wind is a little shocking, we were surprised too! A 2020 NREL analysis did not find a strong economic case for offshore wind in Texas, in part due to competition from other energy resources.
However, when a group of Texas energy stakeholders began talking about a green hydrogen hub using the state’s significant solar and dry wind resources along with existing energy infrastructure, things were about to emerge last year. New offshore wind farms may be added to the mix, so stay tuned for more on that.
Meanwhile, that July 19 Consumer Reports The heat pump article is worth a close read.
“Heat pumps are a moment in the spotlight – or as close as a heating and cooling device can get,” they said. “Whether it’s ducted heat pumps, mini-splits, or even geothermal systems, there’s a buzz around this climate-friendly HVAC technology.”
See the article for all their details. Along with a few warnings and buying guides (CR members also have access to reliability and customer satisfaction ratings), they explain why heat pumps are more environmentally friendly, why they usually save money, how easy they are to install, and why they maintain a comfortable temperature. in terms of performance better than conventional HVAC.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image (cropped): Heat pump Courtesy of US Department of Energy.
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