Heat Pump Technology and its role in Decarbonization | EnVisioneering Exchange podcast ep. 35

John Sheff, Danfoss’ former director of public and industry affairs, discusses heat pump technology and policies and the regulations driving the adoption of heat pumps.

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Guest Bio

John Sheff is the former Director of Public and Industry Affairs at Danfoss.

Episode Summary

John Sheff, Danfoss’ former director of public and industry affairs, discusses heat pump technology and policies and the regulations driving the adoption of heat pumps.

Main Points

  • There are policies beginning to emerge at the federal, state and local levels of government that are pushing building owners toward electrification. The infrastructure bills currently being debated in congress include billions of dollars for building retrofits and upgrades to the electric grid. 
  • Building codes like California’s Title 24 are basically mandating full electrification and onsite renewables in new construction. Likewise, natural gas bans, which started in California cities like Berkeley and San Jose and have shown up in towns in New Jersey and Massachusetts, force building owners to use all electric appliances. 
  • Building codes and natural gas bans, however, only target new construction.  Our country’s building stock only turnover about 2% each year, which means we need to target existing buildings if we want to make a real impact. 
  • New York and Washington, D.C. have made a serious effort to do that with building emissions laws passed in the last several years. These laws set emissions caps for commercial and multifamily buildings and enforce financial penalties for emitting over those caps.
  • Each law uses a different mechanism, but the result is likely the same: building owners must retrofit their buildings to reduce onsite fossil fuel use. These policies are pushing commercial building owners toward heat pump technologies. 
  • Heat pumps can provide heating and cooling, using electricity as a power source. Every home air conditioner very similar to a heat pump, providing cooling by moving heat from a space to another.  
  • A heat pump simply reverses this process, moving heat from the ambient air into the conditioned space.  This is known as an air-to-air heat pump and their application in residential applications is becoming increasingly common because one piece of equipment can provide a home with heating and cooling.
  • Retrofitting larger commercial buildings that use a combination of chillers and boilers to provide comfort, however, is more difficult. Using the ambient air as a heat source for these applications, or an air-to-water heat pump, is currently very challenging. 
  • In cold weather, it’s very difficult to use the ambient air as a heat source and still heat water above 40 degrees Celsius.  A hydronic system utilizing a heat pump chiller generally requires at least 45-degree Celsius water to operate effectively. 
  • Air-to-water heat pumps are also currently about 10-15 percent less efficient than water source heat pumps due to low ambient air temperatures. 
  • Utilizing other heat sources is possible and, in terms of efficiency, makes a lot of sense.  For example, using waste heat from data centers, commercial refrigeration systems or wastewater treatment plants provides a steady and predictable source of heat all year round.  In addition, these heat sources could be centralized, creating the opportunity for district heat and cooling.  Entire blocks of buildings could share resources to build an incredibly efficient district energy system. 
  • This is going on in Europe and Danfoss is involved in several of these innovative projects. Unfortunately, in the U.S., not only do we not have the district energy infrastructure to share heating and cooling between buildings, but we lack the business models and regulatory structures, as well. 
  • Rather than try to crack that regulatory nut, the industry is moving toward an air-to-water heat pump instead of a chiller and boiler combination. The climate, however, cannot wait until the next generation of air-to-water heat pumps are available for us start decarbonizing our commercial buildings. Hybrid solutions that can reduce significantly reduce emissions can be implemented today.
  • Combining air-source heat pumps with natural gas-fired heating does not eliminate fossil fuels altogether. It can, however, reduce the need for fossil fuels to the very coldest days of the year. In certain areas of the country – the mid-Atlantic, Southeast or South – that may be a few weeks a year, depending on how mild the winter is. 


For strategies from the Department of Energy on reducing carbon emissions from buildings, visit https://betterbuildingssolutioncenter.energy.gov/toolkits/low-carbon-technology-strategies-toolkit 

For an overview of greenhouse gas emissions policies in each state, visit https://www.c2es.org/content/state-climate-policy/

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For more information and additional episodes of the EnVisioneering Exchange podcast, visit https://www.danfoss.com/en-us/about-danfoss/insights-for-tomorrow/envisioneering-exchange/

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