Trudeau pushes heat pumps in carbon price carve out. What are they? – National
Heat pumps are making headlines as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government continues to face pressure over its recent carbon price carve out.
Trudeau’s government announced last month it would implement a three-year pause on the carbon price for home heating oil, which is widely used in Atlantic Canada. That led to widespread criticism from premiers elsewhere in the country, calling it unfair.
At the same time, Trudeau said Ottawa would work with provincial governments on plans to subsidize heat pumps for low-income residents.
A recent study by the Canadian Climate Institute dubbed heat pumps as the “lowest-cost” option for heating and cooling homes in Canada, yet many remain unfamiliar with the machines.
Here is what you need to know.
Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one space to another, according to the climate institute’s study on the technology.
In winter, they can draw heat from outside and pump it into the house. It’s possible to do so because in winter, thermal energy exists in the cold air that can be isolated and moved inside, the study said.
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In the summer, heat pumps can pull heat from inside the home and push it out.
Heat pumps use refrigerant to move the energy to where it’s wanted, similar to how a refrigerator works.
They can pull heat from the air, which is the most common method, or from the ground or groundwater. A backup system may be required in some parts of Canada to keep the home warm during cold weather, despite improved technology and heat pump performance in those conditions.
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When it comes to reducing emissions, heat pumps have a “major role” to play, said Kate Harland, research lead for mitigation at the Canadian Climate Institute.
“A lot of our emissions come from the building sector, from heating our homes and our businesses, and there are limited ways in which we can reduce those emissions,” she told Global News.
“There’s only so much renewable natural gas that we have, and so to some extent we need to decarbonize our buildings.”
Why are heat pumps the ‘lowest-cost’ option?
The Canadian Climate Institute study, entitled “Heat pumps pay off: Unlocking lower cost heating and cooling in Canada,” examined the cost of heating and cooling options across building types in Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax.
It compared the costs of different heat pump configurations against gas furnaces and air conditioning.
It says the main reason heat pumps are efficient is because they simply move heat, rather than generate it.
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For each kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity heat pumps use to operate, they can produce two to five kWh of heat, meaning they can provide heating at two to five times the efficiency of even the most modern and efficient gas furnaces, the study indicates.
“Heat pumps can also provide cooling as efficiently as central air conditioning systems, and more efficiently and effectively than window and portable air conditioners. The efficiency of older heat pumps tends to drop in colder temperatures, though this is less true of newer heat pump models, which perform efficiently in a wider range of temperatures,” it said.
“While there is some variation across the country and across different housing types, our results show that installing a heat pump is already the lowest-cost option for most households over the lifetime of the system.”
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In announcing the latest support, Ottawa said homeowners on oil could save up to $2,500 a year by switching to the system. The climate institute calculates that a single-family home in Toronto would spend about $2,250 on natural gas heating plus air conditioning a year, compared with $1,910 if they had a standard heat pump with electric backup.
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In Vancouver, a single-family home would spend about $1,280 on natural gas heating plus air conditioning a year, compared with $640 running on a standard heat pump with electric backup, the study found.
How is Ottawa pushing them?
The study found that despite the cost-savings, there are barriers to heat pump uptake including consumer unfamiliarity and high upfront costs.
Harland said the average cost for heat pumps differs when it comes to model and where in the country you are, but it can cost up to $20,000. For example, BC Hydro pegs the cost at between $6,000 to $14,000.
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As part of the announcement last month, Trudeau said Ottawa would be rolling out a series of incentives to help increase heat pump uptake.
They include an upfront payment of $250 for low-to-median-income households that heat their homes with oil when they sign up for a heat pump through a joint federal-provincial government program.
Furthermore, a strengthened “Oil to Heat Pump Affordability” program will partner with provinces and territories to increase to $15,000 from $10,000 the amount of federal funding eligible homeowners can receive for installing a heat pump.
That will be an addition to up to $5,000 in grant funding to match provincial and territorial contributions through co-delivery arrangements.
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Harland said governments should streamline incentive offerings to make heat pumps more accessible.
“At the moment, that’s quite a process to get some of the rebates that are out there,” she said.
“So more of a one-stop shop, and also maybe moving towards some other ways to provide those rebates so that people don’t have to bear those costs upfront.”
How can you get a heat pump?
Contact an HVAC professional to get a quote on a heat pump, Harland said.
Also, if you know someone who has a heat pump, speak to them.
“We see in some parts of the country (neighbours) who are really helping people navigate the new system and basically getting the best information about how to access some of the grants that are out there to cover a large portion of these upfront costs for them,” she said.
“So if you have a neighbour who has a heat pump, speak to them and find out also how they enjoy the heat pump in the summer as well as in the winter.”