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  • Writer's picturePeter Yolles

Fighting Climate Change ... and Russia ... with Heat Pumps

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

“At least 25% of today’s warming is driven by methane from human actions,” (EDF) and a significant share of this methane (CH4, fossil or natural gas) is used for managing water through heating, moving or treating water. Last month in this blog, we explored global GHG emissions from managing water, which tops out over 10%, and how water tech is climate tech. If ‘managing water’ was a country, it would be the third largest national contributor to GHG after China at 30% and the US at 15%. (IPCC 2014) Heating, moving and treating water is incredibly energy intensive. That’s why converting fossil gas appliances to electricity can be such a powerful lever, not to mention the leakage of methane in its extraction and transmission.

“Cutting methane emissions is the fastest opportunity we have to help avert our most acute climate risks, including crop loss, wildfires, extreme weather and rising sea levels,” says EDF.

I installed my first heat pumps in 2021 replacing both my water heater and furnace, successfully driving down our home’s annual methane (aka fossil gas) consumption from 600 therms to near zero. An induction stove is on order and will complete our #electrifyeverything project, inspired by the work of Saul Griffith and Rewiring America’s playbook. Much of this fossil gas heats water for bathing and cooking, or extracts water from clothes after washing. Many homes also heat water to warm the air to a comfortable temperature through radiators or hydronic floors. So by replacing appliances at the end of their useful life with a heat pump HVAC, heat pump water heater, heat pump clothes dryer and an induction cooktop, a home can drive gas combustion to zero and shut off the gas line forever. The figure below shows how space heating and water heating accounts for nearly two-thirds of U.S. home energy use.

Heat pumps are two to three times more efficient than standard electric appliances like water heaters because they transfer heat rather than creating it. Where will these heat pumps be produced? At the moment, European and American manufacturers are at capacity. Bill McKibben advocates for the use of the Defense Production Act to require companies to produce more heat pumps, an idea I support. When Meghan O’Sullivan of Harvard’s Geopolitics of Energy Project presented ideas for how to wean Europe off Russian gas, she emphasized curtailing demand (e.g. through heat pump deployment).

The heat pump market is already large at $52B today and is expected to grow 8% per year to $94B by 2026. Because of the potential for heat pumps to reduce GHG emissions in heating water, I’ve begun an exploration of where to invest at early-stage heat pump companies. Most production, of course, comes from large multinational corporations like Daikin, Carrier, Rheem and Mitsubishi.

Where are the early-stage heat pump innovators?

If you’re aware of startups pursuing opportunities to advance heat pump water heaters (HPWH) or other innovative water heating technology, I would be keen to meet them.

Here's a link to our Contact page.

Link to last month's blog: Water Tech is Climate Tech

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