The massive efficiency opportunity under your feet (Hint: heat pumps are hot again)

Tue, 2013-07-23 06:10 -- Jesse Berst

geothermal heat pumpBy Jesse Berst

If I had to pick the most overlooked energy efficiency opportunity, it would be a toss-up between heat pumps and combined heat and power. Happily, the heat pump market is... well, it's heating up big time. Navigant Research says annual worldwide revenue will jump from $6.5 billion in 2013 to $17.2 billion in 2020.

"The global economic downturn... has taken a toll on manufacturers of geothermal heat pump (GHP) products,” says research analyst Mackinnon Lawrence.  “However, the market stands to experience strong growth in the coming years as government policies create incentives.

For instance, the Dutch government has a draft "National Energy Agreement" that includes solar PV and heat pumps for one to two million households over 10 years. Meanwhile, the UK government has announced its long-awaited Renewable Heat Incentive. It gives help with the upfront costs of heat pumps (and several other environmentally friendly heating systems such as solar thermal panels and biomass boilers). In addition, it provides for seven years of quarterly payments to owners of qualifying heating systems according to pre-set tariffs.

"In general we can see increasing pressure to use heat pumps in Europe as they are seen as a means for accelerating CO2 emission reduction," said consultant Daniel Colbourne of Re-phridge in an interview in hydrocarbons21.

Heat pumps use the same basic technology as air conditioners and refrigerators, but in the opposite direction, releasing hot air instead of cold. Although they run on electricity, they are considerably more efficient than "traditional" HVAC systems. According to Navigant, "GHP systems can reduce the dependence on fossil fuel-generating sources by a factor of up to 71%"

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Jesse Berst is the founding Chairman of the Smart Cities Council. Click to subscribe to SmartCitiesNow, the weekly newsletter highlighting smart city trends, technologies and techniques.