Zero-Carbon Hot Water and Steam in Homes and Industry

The heating of water in residential and commercial buildings as well as the generation of low-temperature steam in multi-family and industrial plants are one of the greatest untapped opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions while lowering energy costs and enabling the expansion of renewable energies, according to a new study by Schatz Energy Research Center, in collaboration with NRDC and other partners.

Credits: Uniform Living: AO Smith; Multi-Family and Commercial Operations: Nyle Water Heating and AO Smith; Systems; Industry: Mayekawa

The production of hot water and steam in homes, commercial buildings, and low-temperature industrial applications (less than 300 ° F) in the United States emits 520 million tons of CO2 annually, which equates to 113 million cars annually, and 27 percent more than the 410 million tons associated with the heating of buildings. Heat is responsible for a quarter of all emissions from energy use in the US, and this report looks at about 10 percent of US emissions from energy use. The study also identified potential cost savings of $ 30 billion per year on a large-scale deployment.

Photo credit: Alstone, Peter & Mills, Evan & Carman, Jerome & Cervantes, Alejandro. (2021). On the way to carbon-free hot water and industrial heat with efficient and flexible heat pumps.

Traditionally, the need for hot water and steam is met by burning fossil fuels in water heaters and boilers, releasing climate and air pollution. The good news is that there are technologies, and already widespread in many countries, that can cut those emissions by half or more with today’s power grid, and provide a path to carbon and pollutant-free hot water and steam when using renewable sources Energy operated while reducing energy costs compared to conventional gas boilers.

What are water heaters with a heat pump?

What light emitting diode (LED) lamps are to lighting and electric vehicles are to transportation, heat pump water heaters are to water heating and steaming: a 21st century technology solution ready for prime time. It just takes serious political attention and support to displace outdated and environmentally harmful established technologies.

Heat pump water heaters use the laws of thermodynamics to produce four to five times more energy than they consume and up to seven to eight times more energy in industrial applications by efficiently absorbing heat from the air, water or the ground, and concentrate it in a hot water tank. This process, as used in air conditioners and refrigerators, is far more efficient than even the most efficient gas-burning water heaters and boilers. Although gas is cheaper per unit of energy than electricity, the energy savings of a modern heat pump more than make up for the price difference, resulting in lower energy costs. The savings are even more compelling when replacing the electrical resistor, heating oil or propane, where heat pump water heaters can cut energy costs by half or more.

Heat pumps can meet hot water and low temperature steam needs in many applications, from single and multi-family houses to district heating on campus and in cities to commercial sectors such as hotels, healthcare, education, hospitality and industry such as food processing, brick drying, plastics / chemicals, paint booths , Wood products etc.

Three big ideas: efficient, climate-friendly, network-flexible

What makes hot water preparation with a heat pump so attractive? They are a perfect tool for the clean energy transition because they efficient, climate-friendly and network-flexible.

  1. Efficient: Heat pump technology has come a long way. As the study found, they are now at an efficiency of “300 percent” or more for residential applications, exceeding the efficiency of conventional fossil fuel combustion (60-97 percent) or electrical resistance (90-95 percent) and even more in many industrial applications. High-performance heat pumps can heat water with less energy and therefore have lower energy costs for energy consumers. The study found that 80 percent of private customers, 70 percent of industrial customers and 60 percent of commercial customers would pay less for electricity from a water heater with a heat pump than for gas-powered water heating at today’s energy prices. . These incentives should only increase if the heat pump’s performance continues to improve rapidly.
  2. Climate friendly: The use of highly efficient water heaters with heat pumps, which are operated with increasingly clean electricity, will reduce CO2 emissions from water heating and steam. According to the study, nearly 100 percent of potential residential, commercial and industrial locations would achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions using a heat pump electric water heater. And when the grid is decarbonised, these emissions will go to zero.
  3. Grid flexible: Heat pumps offer the ability to heat and store water for later use at times when renewable energy is in abundance. Put simply, heat pumps can act as thermal batteries to store excess renewable energy and buffer the grid. This can help decarbonise the grid faster and more cheaply. The study found that the total share of customers in all industries who would achieve savings by switching to heat pumps for hot water increases from 60-80% to 95% with flexible operation and appropriate prices or incentives. In many cases, this strategy is far more cost-effective and environmentally friendly than other forms of storage such as building new hydropower plants for short-term storage.

A potential solution to reduce the energy burden on low-income households

The study concludes that more low-income households would save money on water heating with heat pumps than other households, which is particularly important as they also spend the highest proportion of their income on water heating, up to 2 percent on the lowest high-income households.

However, in order for low-income households to benefit from these solutions, there must be conscious implementation guidelines in place that make these solutions accessible, affordable and ensure that they do not lead to unintended consequences such as evictions due to rent increases after building renovations. Underserved communities must be a priority in providing clean water heating solutions through federal guidelines such as the Zero Emission Homes Act (ZEH) and the Green Resilient Efficient, Affordable Homes for Tenants Act (GREAHT), which are viewed as part of Biden’s government and infrastructure investment priorities US Congress.

Make it happen

The report outlines many of the guidelines needed to seize this opportunity for a cleaner, more cost-effective way to meet the hot water needs of US households, businesses, and industry. In short, these guidelines fall into three categories: 1) removing regulatory and market barriers; 2) investments to accelerate deployment; and 3) standards to scale acceptance and ensure equal access.

Now is the time to act: fossil water heaters and industrial boilers have a lifespan of at least a decade, and sometimes two, creating unnecessary emissions and higher costs for customers. The next few years are critical to ensuring that heat pump water heaters play a significant role in making a carbon-free network a reality by 2035. As the study sums up: “Efficient and flexible heat pumps hit the moment by creating jobs in an important 21st century”. lower the energy costs for customers, lower CO2 emissions and facilitate the integration of renewable energies. “

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