Capital Tonight Home Heating

Capital Tonight Link to the interview

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) has a legal mandate for New York State greenhouse gas emissions to meet the ambitious net-zero goal by 2050.  I was interviewed for a segment on the home heating electrification component of the Climate Act on Spectrum Cable’s Capital Tonight program hosted by Susan Arbetter.  This post provides documentation for the information I provided in the interview.

Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies.  This blog emphasizes that pragmatic environmentalism is all about balancing the risks and benefits of both sides of issues.  The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.

Climate Act Background

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act) establishes a “Net Zero” target by 2050.  The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Draft Scoping Plan that defines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”.  They were assisted by Advisory Panels who developed and presented strategies to the meet the goals to the Council.  Those strategies were used to develop the Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants that quantified the impact of the strategies.  That analysis was used to develop the Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment on December 30, 2021.

Earlier this year I watched an episode of Spectrum Cable’s Capital Tonight program where Susan Arbetter was interviewing someone about the costs associated with the home heating electrification component of the Climate Act.  I got the impression she was not getting the specifics that she wanted so I followed up with an email suggesting that I might be able to help her understand what is in the Draft Scoping Plan.  She called me the next day and we agreed that most New Yorkers have no clue what is coming at them.  I offered to help provide her with information based on my evaluation of the Climate Act’s Draft Scoping Plan and this interview was the result.

In order to educate the public, she posed some questions beforehand that enabled me to track down the answers.  The interview did not follow the scripted questions very closely. The numbers provided in this interview are all derived from the Draft Scoping Plan and Integration Analysis spreadsheets as documented here.

What does the scoping plan say about the building sector?

The Plan estimates that the buildings sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at this time.  Buildings and transportation account for over 54% of total emissions.  Digging deeper it turns out that space heating is nearly 20% of the total and is the largest sector exceeding even electric generating emissions.  The Plan proposes to electrify building sector space heating to eliminate those emissions. 

What options are proposed as an alternative to oil and gas heat?

The preferred electrification alternative is heat pumps.  Heat pumps are more efficient than combustion heaters because they move energy around rather than create it.  A refrigerator is a type of heat pump.  It extracts energy or heat out of the refrigerator cooling the inside. Heat pumps work in reverse extracting energy outside the home and bringing it in to warm the inside.

There are two kinds of heat pumps.  Air source heat pumps extract energy out of the atmosphere and ground source heat pumps extract energy out of the ground.  Air source heat pumps are simpler to install so are less costly.  Ground source heat pumps have to install a heat exchanging ground loop underground which is more complicated and may not be possible due to site constraints.  The Scoping Plan modeling projects that about 75% of the heat pumps installed will be air source.

I keep hearing that heat pumps may not be good in the winter.  What’s your take?

The problem with heat pumps is that they can only heat your home if there is energy to transfer.  This is not an issue with ground source heat pumps because if the underground heat exchanger is installed properly the is always sufficient energy.  During the coldest periods of the winter there isn’t sufficient energy in the atmosphere to heat your house.  The Scoping Plan includes a supplemental resistance heating unit to address that.

There is another aspect of this that doesn’t get much attention.  Refrigerators work so well in large part because there are insulated well and sealed so well that there is little air infiltration. When you hear about homes in Norway and Alaska that use heat pumps, they have upgraded building shells.  Building shell refers to the insulation, air infiltration, and window treatments needed to minimize energy use within the building.  The Draft Scoping Plan describes two bundles of building shell improvements: basic and deep (Appendix G, Section I page 34).   There is only a brief discussion of the two types so it is not clear just what is expected of homeowners.  The Scoping Plan projects that 64% of homes will install basic shells, 27% will have deep shells and 7% will have reference shells.  Reference shells are for homes that cannot be upgraded without great cost and effort.

How much?

In my opinion the Climate Action Council should describe all the control measures, provide references for their expected control strategies, and list the estimated costs projected emission reductions.  In the absence of that information, I estimated costs based on my evaluation of the Integration Analysis spreadsheets.  The device costs listed for single family homes are $14,678 for an air source heat pump and another $1,140 for electric resistance backup.  Ground source heat pump cost is $34,082.  For a basic shell upgrade the Plan device cost is $6,409 and a deep shell is $45,136.  Table “Furnace Costs” lists the information needed to estimate individual retrofit costs.

I estimate the costs to retrofit heat pumps to existing residential furnaces in 2018 would total $96.9 billion if they were all converted to air source heat pumps and $202,6 billion if they were all converted to ground source heat pumps.  The Draft Scoping Plan assumes 75% air source and 25% ground source and that totals $123.3 billion. 

The Draft Scoping Plan mitigation scenarios assume that in 2050 64% of the residences will have basic shells, 27% will have deep shells and 7% will have reference shells.  The total cost to implement those residential upgrades will be $115 billion.

The Draft Scoping Plan estimates that from 2022 to 2050 the state will have to spend each year $4.25 billion to replace existing furnaces with heat pumps and $3.97 billion to upgrade building shells for a total of $8.22 billion.

Is there anything else we should know?

The implementation timeline is still evolving.  Also note, that additional legislation will be needed to mandate that when your existing furnace reaches its end of life at some future date, then you will have to install a heat pump.  I imagine that building codes will change so you will also have to upgrade your building shell at some point too. 

If you are concerned about this then you should go to Climate.ny.gov for more information.  There also is a link to provide comments.  I encourage everyone to comment because whatever happens will have major impacts in the not-too distant future.  I also suggest that you contact your legislators to let them know how you feel.

One final note is that no one is claiming that converting a home using natural gas heating to heat pumps will actually save the homeowner money.  Consequently, 5.8 million residences will be paying a hidden tax.  Furthermore, there is a safety concern.  The reliability of the gas system is much higher than that of the electric system particularly in the aftermath of heavy snow or ice storms.  It is not clear what is supposed to happen when everything is electrified and there is a major outage. 

Documentation

The numbers provided are documented in a spreadsheet that extracts data from the Integration Analysis spreadsheet then consolidates and summarizes it.  There are five tables.  “Emissions” lists the total greenhouse gas emissions by sectors.  “2018 Stocks” consolidates the current heating stocks used in the Draft Scoping Plan.  “Bldg_Shell Costs” lists the types of building shells projected for the different Plan analysis scenarios and estimates state-wide costs for those upgrades.  The “Furnace Costs” table projects state-wide costs to retrofit heat pumps to existing furnaces.  For individual homeowner costs I put together a table that can be used to estimate the cost to replace all the furnace types included in the Draft Scoping Plan.  For example, if a homeowner wants an estimate of the retrofit cost to replace a distillate boiler with an air source heat pump using a basic building shell, read down column D.  The heating electrification cost is the sum of the heat pump, the electric backup, and building upgrade is $22,227.  The cost of a replacement distillate boiler ($9,260) is subtracted from that total to get $12,967 as the retrofit cost.

Conclusion

Ms. Arbetter was upfront with her audience that I am skeptical of the Climate Act.  I responded to her questions using only information from the Draft Scoping Plan text, appendices and the Integration Analysis spreadsheets.  Therefore, my personal opinion should not taint the interview responses.

I am convinced that very few people are aware of the Climate Act, fewer understand the implications, and only a handful have dug into the Draft Scoping Plan in enough detail to provide meaningful comments. Given that I have written over 190 posts about various aspects of the Climate Act on this blog I am one of that handful.  Based on my work I am convinced that it is very likely that the Climate Act will do more harm than good due to   increased costs, reliability risks, and environmental impacts.

In my personal conversations with people about this particular aspect of the Climate Act the typical response when I tell them that someday they will have to replace their gas, propane, or oil-fired furnace with an electric heat pump is incredulity.  Frequently, the response is “What will I do when the power goes out?”  I can only tell them it is going to be the law so you have to speak up now.  Hopefully the information provided in this interview will spur people to comment.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. I author two blogs. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. The second blog addresses the New York State Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (https://reformingtheenergyvisioninconvenienttruths.wordpress.com). Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blogs are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

7 thoughts on “Capital Tonight Home Heating”

  1. Hello.

    I think your point about what happens in a major outage is so well made. I think you and I have discussed this a little bit before.

    I hope that Emergency Services organisations are really thinking this through. There will likely be more people requiring help if heating, hot water and cooking are gone in a cold snap.

    Electric vehicles have less range and people in more far flung communities can’t just have some petrol drums in the shed. Volunteer emergency services workers may not have the range on their own vehicles to get where they are needed. The range on vehicles and ability to recharge/refuel can be problems where wildfires take out the power supply.

    Just so much to think about, and I think that the understanding of the full picture of the energy transition and demonisation of fossil fuels is really poor on so many levels.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well written and researched. My only question has to do with the ability to operate a gas furnace for heating a home during an electricity outage. Don’t those furnaces rely on electricity to operate blowers or fans of some sort, meaning they will not operate during an electric power outage?

    Like

    1. Thank you.

      That is true but I it is not very difficult to run an exension cord from a portable gasoline-fired electric generator to your furnace, sump pump, refrigerator or freezer to get through an outage. Personally I went to a whole house generator because I think more and longer outages are a inevitable consequence of the plan.

      Like

      1. Good point. And I agree that longer, and possibly more frequent, outages may be the result of relying so heavily on intermittent sources without the proper backup generation in place. But couldn’t you also run that same extension cord to the heat pump(s)? I guess what I’m asking is why is gas more reliable to heat your home with than heat pumps powered by electricity if gas furnaces still rely on electricity to operate.

        Like

      2. Good counter point.

        When I think reliable energy for my personal safety, I want backup capability. I don’t have a wood stove so for power outages I have invested in getting enough power to the furnace so I can use natural gas. Natural gas reliability to homeowners is much higher than electric reliability. I have lived in this home 41 years and do not ever recall a gas outage here. It is all underground and protected. Mind you the “no new fossil infrastructure” crowd appears to want to make natural gas unavailable. That will affect my reliability someday.

        One other point vis-à-vis heat pumps vs natural gas. The efficient natural gas furnaces generate heat so cheaply that heat pumps are not cost-effective over the life of the furnace. In other words, they never pay for themselves in savings. Fuel oil and propane are more expensive and the literature argues that those conversions will save money.

        Like

  3. Thanks, yes. My home, built in 1929, would cost a fortune to retrofit just in terms of tightening its envelope – all new windows, insulation, etc. According to our furnace guy we still have 20 or so years left on our existing oil-furnace as well. And heat pumps would also require upgrading our electric system, I’ve been told. All in all, extraordinarily expensive stuff for anyone!

    One last point about the “no new fossil infrastructure” crowd. Almost all renewable energy requires petroleum to be produced – polymers and carbon-fiber for wind turbine blades (along with metallurgical coal to make the steel) and polymers and carbon anodes for the wiring used in photovoltaic panels. Electric vehicles simply cannot be made without petroleum – 50 percent of a U.S. automobile’s volume consists of plastic,1 while it was estimated that by 2019 as many as three billion tires would be sold globally every year.2 Both air and ground source heat pump systems involve the use of carbon sheet steel and hydrocarbons.3 Society may be headed toward the use of less carbon-intensive resources for power generation, heating, and transportation, but the need for both oil and natural gas and the products made from them in manufacturing is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.4

    1. https://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Automotive/.
    2. https://www.freedoniagroup.com/industry-study/world-tires-3357.htm. 60 to 70 percent of rubber used in the tire industry is synthetic rubber produced from petroleum-derived hydrocarbons. https://thetiredigest.michelin.com/an-unknown-object-the-tire-materials.
    3. All heat pumps require a working fluid to transfer excess energy from one heat source to another. Traditionally, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have been used as working fluids because of their superior thermodynamic properties but have been gradually phased out of production and replaced by water, hydrocarbons, and ammonia. Housing most of the components of the heat pump, the encasements are fabricated out of mild carbon sheet steel. See How Products are Made, Volume 3 at http://www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Heat-Pump.html.
    4. See Alaric Nightingale and Javier Blas, Oil demand is surging, just not how you might think, Bloomberg News (July 14, 2021) at https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/oil-demand-is-surging-just-not-how-you-might-think-1.1628870.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: