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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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The Growing Role Of Heat Pumps In Global Decarbonization Efforts

  • The U.S. Climate Alliance aims to install 20 million heat pumps by 2030, targeting zero emissions in new constructions.
  • France has committed to producing one million heat pumps by 2027, supporting its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55%.
  • Heat pumps are energy-efficient replacements for fossil fuel-powered systems, playing an increasingly important role in global efforts to reduce building emissions.

Both the U.S. and France are pushing for the production and use of more climate-friendly heat pumps, as they look to trade out existing furnace and air conditioning equipment. As governments around the world strive to decarbonize, many states and cities are introducing new construction measures to develop low-carbon buildings. Earlier this year, New York became the first U.S. city to ban gas stoves and furnaces in most new buildings, starting in 2029. Meanwhile, the province of British Columbia in Canada is bringing multiple stakeholders and cities together to introduce province-wide building energy codes. But now that changes are being implemented, cities around the world will need to offer low-carbon replacements for existing heating and cooling systems. Now, politicians in the U.S. and France are looking at how to best replace polluting systems with more eco-friendly alternatives. 

The U.S. is pushing for a switch from furnaces and air conditioners to heat pumps in support of the country’s green transition. The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 25 state governments, stated at a Climate Week NYC event that it is aiming to install 20 million heat pumps by 2030, quadrupling the current figure. The Alliance aims for at least 40 percent of the heat pumps to go to disadvantaged communities. This is part of a bigger aim from the group to decarbonize buildings and ultimately achieve zero emissions in new construction. 

The co-chair of the Climate Alliance, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, stated “We are in a climate emergency and the window to act is closing. U.S. Climate Alliance states get that. That’s why we’re taking bold, immediate action by quadrupling heat pump installations by 2030.” He added, “Heat pumps are available and affordable, not to mention better for the air we breathe. So our commitment today is good for our planet and for our people.”

The White House National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi explained of the move, “Combined with President Biden’s historic climate leadership, these bold commitments by governors to cut emissions from buildings will have a catalytic impact across America. It will clean up the air our children breathe, save hardworking families money on their monthly energy bills, strengthen America’s climate resilience, and create good-paying jobs in every corner of the country.”

At present, the direct and indirect emissions from buildings in the U.S. contribute over 30 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The Climate Alliance aims to decarbonize buildings across the U.S. by improving energy efficiency and electrification. This will not only support government climate pledges but it is also expected to improve indoor air quality and public health.

Heat pumps are energy-efficient alternatives to fossil fuel-powered furnaces and air conditioning systems. They use technology similar to that in a refrigerator, using electricity to transfer heat from a source – such as the surrounding air – and then amplify and move the heat to wherever it is needed. They are more efficient and often cheaper to run than conventional heating technologies because most of the heat is transferred rather than generated. They can heat a building when it is cold outside or cool a building when it is hot.

The U.S. is not the only country looking to this technology to support the decarbonization of its buildings, with France’s President Macron announcing this month that France will produce significantly more heat pumps in the coming years. Macron called heat pumps “a fabulous lever for substitution, with much lower energy consumption and emissions”, when speaking after a session of a council on climate held at the presidential palace. 

Macron said that France will produce one million heat pumps and train 30,000 people to install them by the end of his time in office in 2027. This is expected to help decarbonize buildings and supports France’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030, compared to its 1990 levels. The French Environment Minister, Christophe Bechu, echoed Macron’s pledge stating, “Fighting climate change means first and foremost exiting from the use of fossil fuels, therefore we should have no more fuel heaters and much fewer gas heaters.” 

At present, France is subsidizing imported Polish or Chinese-made devices. This move by the government will help develop a national heat pump industry that will not only provide the equipment needed for new building construction but will create thousands of new jobs in the industry. Bechu believes that France can replace close to all of the nearly 3 million fuel heaters and about half of the 11 million gas heaters in France by 2030. However, France is not expected to introduce an all-out ban on fossil-fuel-fired heaters. 

Heat pumps are just one of the many technologies that governments are looking towards to help decarbonize buildings. Residential and commercial buildings continue to account for a significant proportion of carbon emissions and introducing new energy efficiency regulations, as well as installing low-carbon technologies, will help countries worldwide to decarbonize their infrastructure in support of a green transition. 

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By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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