Maine’s quick adoption of heat pumps proves they’re ready for cold climates. Also, LEDs have rapidly decreased how much energy we need to power our lights.

Is America finally ready to embrace heat pumps?

In the wake of the scorching summer of 2023 and increasing concerns about climate change, many homeowners are searching for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Besides switching to electric vehicles, embracing solar power, and cutting back on meat consumption, there’s another impactful change we can make right at home: transitioning from traditional gas or electric furnaces to electric heat pumps.

You might be thinking, “But don’t heat pumps only work in warm climates? Can they really keep a home warm when it gets cold?”

It’s hard to imagine a state with harsher winters than Maine, and heat pumps are doing just fine there. The Pine Tree State has not only embraced heat pumps but is doubling down on its commitment to this clean-heating technology.

Back in 2019, Maine set an ambitious target to install 100,000 heat pumps by 2025 as part of its climate strategy. Fast forward to this past August, and Governor Janet Mills announced that the state had surpassed that goal two years ahead of schedule, with over 104,000 heat pumps now installed in homes and businesses. Unwilling to rest on its laurels, the state promptly set a new goal to install an additional 175,000 heat pumps by 2027.

Governor Mills couldn’t be happier about Maine’s achievement, stating, “We are setting an example for the nation. Our transition to heat pumps is creating good-paying jobs, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and lowering costs for Maine families, all while enhancing their home comfort – a significant achievement for our state.” (1)

But what, exactly, is a heat pump? It’s essentially a reversible air conditioner. These machines are incredibly efficient, using two to four times less energy than traditional gas furnaces. They’re expected to play a vital role in reducing carbon emissions from home heating. In fact, the reduced carbon emissions from a modern heat pump can offset its manufacturing carbon footprint in just over a year. (2)

But despite this efficiency, there’s a common misconception that heat pumps don’t work in cold climates, which keeps them out of many American homes. Maine’s success challenges this notion and demonstrates that heat pumps can revolutionize heating systems even in regions with harsh winters.

This achievement aligns with the United States’ goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. To meet this target, it’s estimated that contractors will need to install 5.4 million heat-pump systems across the country by 2027. The Inflation Reduction Act has plenty of incentives to switch to a heat pump, but reliability is still a concern for widespread acceptance. (2)

Another challenge for heat pumps is that many local HVAC servicing companies may not fully understand heat pumps or have trained technicians for installation. To address this, Maine has implemented a robust heat pump workforce training program, with over 550 technicians trained to date.

“We know that when a lower-income home can add a heat pump, it helps reduce overall heating and cooling costs and trims our dependence on carbon-emitting fuels. It helps our planet and enhances a home’s affordability and a heating system’s reliability, all at the same time,” said Erik Jorgensen, Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations at MaineHousing. (1)

Maine’s success with heat pumps serves as a model for the wider adoption of this technology across the United States, helping us transition to cleaner and more efficient heating systems in our quest for a sustainable future.

LED lights are part of the climate solution

When new U.S. lighting efficiency regulations went into effect last month, they highlighted the astounding improvement in efficiency the technology has seen over the past century. Although the new rules didn’t outlaw incandescent lights outright, they did set national standards that make using century old technology nearly impossible.

The proliferation of cheap, long-lasting LEDs represents the latest chapter in the remarkable decline in lighting costs since the Middle Ages. A comprehensive analysis by Our World in Data reveals that lighting costs have plummeted by 99.9% since the year 1300, while lighting efficiency has increased a thousandfold since 1700. (1) Historian and author Bill Bryson notes that opening a refrigerator generates more light than an average household had at its disposal in the 18th century.

Moreover, the trend toward LEDs is not confined to the United States or affluent regions alone; energy-efficient lighting solutions are gaining ground on a global scale. In 2010, LEDs constituted just over 1% of global lighting sales. In 2022, they accounted for more than half.

Crucially, the increasing efficiency and widespread adoption of LEDs in the U.S. have led to a significant reduction in residential energy consumption for lighting, with a nearly 50% decrease in less than a decade. As per the Energy Information Administration, households in the U.S. now use more electricity for refrigeration than for lighting, and lighting consumes approximately the same amount of electricity as clothes drying.

Given the long-term gains associated with each LED bulb, it’s plausible that global electricity consumption for lighting might even decrease if efficiency continues to increase. The International Energy Agency is aiming for a 30% improvement by 2030 to align with net zero scenarios.

Early LEDs, due to their preponderance of blue light, were not particularly conducive to human health, affecting circadian rhythms and aesthetic preferences. This is where “warmer” bulbs, with a lower color temperature, can play a vital role. Today’s LEDs are capable of providing warm, candlelight-like illumination at a low cost and with continually improving energy efficiency, which can contribute significantly to achieving net-zero lighting targets while ensuring a pleasant lighting experience.

The Weekly Sunsong

This one goes out to all the HVAC technicians in Maine: