Updated: July 15, 2021 9:16:32 am
The Pacific Northwest has been dealing with a historic heat wave that has led people in the western parts of the US and Canada to consider buying air conditioners. Some of these people are buying them for the first time in their lives given more frequent heat waves in the last few years. But as people buy air conditioners to deal with harsher summers, there is concern about ACs not being environmentally friendly.
Therefore, as an alternative to them, some cities in the US are considering using heat pumps that are considered to be more eco-friendly. The New York Times recently reported that Denver in Colorado and Berkeley in California have started exploring options such as these that could help tackle fossil fuel emissions and fight climate change.
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So, what are heat pumps and how do they work?
The US Department of Energy notes that for climates with moderate heating and cooling needs, heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air-conditioners. It says that much like a refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space to a wam space. This makes the cool place cooler and the warm place warmer. Therefore, a heat pump does not create any heat or cool air, but it merely shifts air. For instance, if a heat pump is being used inside a room to make it cool, it will absorb the heat in the room and will release it outdoors with the help of an outdoor compressor. In heating mode, the heat pump will absorb heat from outside and release it indoors.
There are mainly two types of heat pumps depending on the type of medium they extract heat from. One type extracts heat from the ground and the other from air.
What makes them eco-friendly?
A heat pump does not generate heat or cold air, therefore it does not use fuel. However, a heat pump works more or less like a refrigerator and does use some amount of electricity to run. Therefore, a heat pump cannot exactly be called a renewable technology. But compared to ACs, they fare much better when it comes to impacting the environment.
The Renewable Energy Hub UK notes that when used in the correct type of property, a heat pump can save costs for oil and gas. It estimates that using a heat pump can save a person up to £240 a year.
How feasible is it to use heat pumps?
They are most efficient in moderate climates and a lot depends on where the heat pump is being used. For instance, a ground heat pump requires outside space that should be double the surface area of the house. The ground has to be dug up to lay down the ground loop that contains the heat fluid. “If you do not have such a space or if you do not want to dig up your garden, it may be best to consider an air source pump system, which is much more compact and more suited to urban areas,” the Renewable Energy Hub (REH) said.
Further, heat pumps are not exactly cheap, air source heat pumps (that are feasible for households) can cost anything between £5000 and £8000. The costs and savings that may come with heat pumps also depends on what the household is already using. For instance, if a household relies on gas heating, the savings can be estimated between £1315-£1975, as per REH.
There may also be some additional costs associated with getting heat pumps installed, for instance, one may have to spend on getting insulation systems installed for the house to make it work more efficiently.
For the Indian context, a paper titled, “A Case Study on Applications of Heat Pump in India” notes that “Application of heat pumps in hotels, malls, theatres is growing in a country like India.”
It adds, “In India, a tremendous amount of solar energy is available. The system combination of solar thermal collectors and heat pumps is a very attractive option for increasing the renewable energy usage at worldwide level for heating and domestic hot water preparation,”
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