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Heat pumps are central to a zero-emission future


A question that is being asked in the face of electrification: How will the grid manage all this new load if we electrify everything?

With many major automakers recently announcing a line of EVs, the concern now extends to transportation. Fortunately, we have a very recent example of how electrification can be done so that it provides benefits to all stakeholders. This is not an endorsement of a product or a company but a strategy. Ford’s F-150 Lightning and the company’s approach overcome the barriers to EV ownership and signals that leadership at US automakers are beginning to understand that EV technology can be a competitive advantage for them. The team at Ford seem to have pulled together what is so often a key-ingredient in technology leaps; they correctly recognized home-charging as the giant challenge that it is, and rather than simply providing a pathway to a solution, like finding a local qualified installer, they turned it into an almost unimaginable opportunity. With an extended-range battery, the company includes installing an 80 Amp fast-charger in your home. While that is cool, it is not the fast charging that makes this a game-changer. Their solution creates value for the buyer that will be very difficult for Ford’s competition to leapfrog for a long time to come.

The team at Ford has partnered with rooftop Solar PV installation leader, SunRun, to install the bi-directional charger on our home. This unique charger coupled with SunRun’s national network of solar installers not only provides the charge times we desire to make an EV work for us; it simultaneously provides serious backup power for our homes. Combined with a $0 out-of-pocket solar PV installation, the average F-150 owner just went carbon neutral and self-sufficient at the same time. The EV development team at Ford deserves credit for understanding where the market is going and being on the front end of the development curve.

Heat pumps of all types have been in the news recently for their incredible efficiency, producing as much as four times the usable output with a given amount of input energy compared to a traditional heat source. More recent advancements allow air-source heat pumps to operate in extreme environments, creating a suitable replacement for fossil gas-fired space heating equipment. Heat pump water heaters have been available for over forty years. Still, they have only just begun to gain popularity in the US, representing less than 2% of water heater sales nationwide last year. Despite accounting for up to 32% of the energy consumed in single-family and multifamily homes, water heating has not gained the ire of efficiency groups across the country until recently.

With renewable energy production ramping up across the country and a future of 100% renewables, short-duration, grid-connected energy storage is a keystone technology for expanding renewable penetration toward 100%. That’s where the magic of thermal energy storage coupled with heat pumps can play an important role.

There will be thousands of connected, large-capacity energy storage devices of many types in a few years, like F-150s and Nyle central HPWHs, dispersed throughout a utility area. The capacity will be in place to disconnect loads from the grid or supplement grid power with stored energy during peak demand periods, significantly lowering the demand on the grid whilst having minimal impact on the user’s experience. Charge times can be delayed to line up with solar PV production to soak up the sunshine, allowing more renewable energy generation to come online.

Charging a battery for an F-150 or running a commercial heat pump to charge the thermal battery for 177 evening or morning showers provide a similar, dispatchable load for the utility.

  • Extended Range F-150 = 155kWh usable capacity | 155kWh = 528,860btu
  • 575 Gallons of water heated to 160F contains 528,000btu of usable energy (160F to 120F usable range)
  • A Multifamily building designed for 177 occupants will utilize a 125,000btu/hr heat pump water heater (9kW input power) connected to 575 gallons of heated water storage.

Welcome to the future.

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