Ron Domitrovic is the Program Manager for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), a non-profit energy research, development, and deployment organization that works with industry and policy experts to ensure the public has access to electricity across the globe.
Host Vic Marinich, global marketing director for air conditioning at Danfoss, is joined by Ron Domitrovic of EPRI to discuss advances in heat pump technology and what is needed to increase heat pump adoption.
- EPRI’s electrification initiative started a number of years ago and has evolved into a whole research program. Efficient electrification and electrification for the sake of decarbonization and productivity are major themes.
- Another current project is the Low-Carbon Resources Initiative, which looks at alternatives to fossil-based fuels. There are a variety of projects looking at the application of heat pumps and related technologies for all manner of applications.
- Thirty years ago, heat pumps were a bit of a novelty. People who worked in the field understood the nature of them and why they could be so effective and so efficient. Now many more people are talking about them. The technology is getting better and the product can satisfy customer requirements more effectively. And there is policy that’s restricting the use of fossil fuels or incentivizing the use of electrically driven heat pumps.
- But none of that would be useful if the product couldn’t satisfy the customer requirements for comfort and cost, effectiveness. The most important advancement in heat pump technology over the last couple of decades is the incorporation of variable speed compressors. That has allowed heat pumps to become useful across a wide range of applications.
- The residential and small commercial segments are the easiest markets to penetrate because there’s already a reasonable amount of technology and product out there in the residential space. All of the major manufacturers now make cold climate heat pumps that can satisfy consumers very effectively.
- With larger commercial buildings that are hydronically heated, heat pump operation gets more difficult when the temperature lift is higher. The same challenges occur in industrial processes where you have wider temperature gaps between a source and a process.
- The technology is not as mature in those spaces and that really comes down to the temperature lift. When outdoor temperatures are cold, heating interior water to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is a higher lift than for an equivalent residence where you only have to get the indoor air up to about 110 degrees.
- The Inflation Reduction Act will drive the adoption of heat pumps by offering incentives to restrict the use of fossil fuels, although there are still some unknowns about how the funding will reach the customer. But the knowledge of the contractor and the willingness of the contractor and the supplier to provide a heat pump are hurdles.
- There is a lot of inertia in the business of installing gas furnaces and traditional types of equipment. That slowly changes as people become educated by manufacturers of more technologically advanced heat pump systems.
- When the product is good, that’s the best motivator for somebody to adopt it. When LED light bulbs first came on the market, people were hesitant to purchase. It wasn’t until there was a really good product available that was truly better than the incandescent bulb that people wanted to buy LED bulbs. That will slowly happen with heat pumps as well. Variable speed systems have allowed heat pumps to provide better comfort, cooling and heating.
- There’s a need for heat pumps to do air source heating in confined spaces, like large buildings, and a need for product development for the industrial space. On the residential and small commercial side, the HVAC system just needs to be able to handle all climates in a cost-effective way. There’s a lot of research going on in that area.
- Refrigerant transition will make heat pump adoption a challenge. It has pushed some people to look at older refrigerants like ammonia and like carbon dioxide. EPRI is looking at using ammonia as a refrigerant for chilling and for heating as well, with carbon dioxide as a distribution fluid. That’s what’s been done in supermarkets and the question is whether it can be applied to buildings as well.
- The population is more conscious of energy use and the results of that energy use, so manufacturers can capitalize on that and educate people. The EPRI has created a consumer’s guide to heat pumps to educate people on the front lines, like utility staff, who communicate with consumers.
- Single-speed systems have been in use for decades but variable-speed heat pumps have unlocked incredible efficiency. At most conditions, you have very efficient operation when running at lower than maximum speed. When it gets really cold, the system can speed up and produce more heat and that’s very important for cold climate applications and for improving the perception of heat pumps.
- Electrification and decarbonization are a whole system approach. It really comes down to how do you use energy most judiciously. Electrification allows for the use of a decarbonized grid or decarbonized power generation system that produces the comfort we desire but with much lower energy use.
- A part of achieving that goal is the retrofitting of existing buildings. Installing a heat pump system into a new building is easier because you can design insulation and the whole system around it. Retrofitting an existing building certainly possible. It’s just a different engineering approach and there may not be the full suite of options that you have when doing a new build. For example, there may not be space or grid capacity.
To learn more about the EPRI and its research, visit https://www.epri.com
To learn more about variable-speed technologies for HVAC systems, visit https://www.danfoss.com/en-us/markets/refrigeration-and-air-conditioning/dcs/variable-speed/#tab-overview
To read EPRI’s latest research on heat pump operation in extreme temperatures, visit https://www.epri.com/research/products/000000003002022772
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