The Rocky Mountain Institute has campaigned in favor of electrifying everything – forcing people to use exclusively electric appliances under the false promise of solving CO2 emissions and climate change. In RMI’s latest installment, part of its ongoing series focused on electrification, the “Keep It In the Ground” group argues that residential electric heat pumps are more efficient and environmentally friendly than high efficiency natural gas furnaces. Yet, despite every energy source having benefits and challenges, RMI falls short in explaining some of the downsides of electric heat pumps.
Here are three key arguments that RMI failed to mention in its missive:
#1 Heat pumps require power fueled by natural gas
RMI assumes that by 2036, renewables will fuel 44 percent of U.S. power generation, with natural gas as a close runner up. Under this scenario, electric heat pumps become an adequate long-term investment for consumers and justify claims that their use would help reduce emissions.
However, U.S. Energy Information Administration data suggests that renewables won’t reach that point until 2050, 30 years from now. Natural gas has been the biggest driver of the low-carbon energy transition in the United States by replacing coal-fired power generation with a low-emission and reliable fuel source.
Ultimately, electric heat pumps purchased during at least the next 30 years would be heavily reliant on natural gas, the same power source so fiercely stigmatized by RMI and other similar “KIITG” groups.
#2 Heat pumps underperform in drastic weather
Despite the so-called performance and energy efficiency advantages RMI tries to convey about electric heat pumps, one undeniable fact is that electric heat pumps are known for underperforming in cold and unpredictable weather.
Electric heat pumps might be a reliable option in states like California or Arizona, where performance is at “its highest in places with mild winters”. But, what about states where temperatures drop drastically or the winds are too strong?
According to the (EERE), there is plenty to consider when choosing an electric heat pump. When it comes to states with extremely cold temperatures, like Colorado, Minnesota or Wisconsin, electric heat pumps require additional features to make them work properly:
“Select a heat pump with a demand-defrost control. This will minimize the defrost cycles, thereby reducing supplementary and heat pump energy use.”
Likewise, wind is another factor that can impact the heat pump’s performance:
“The location of the outdoor unit may affect its efficiency. Outdoor units should be protected from high winds, which can cause defrosting problems.”
These conditions would not only limit electric heat pumps’ performance in extreme or variable weathers, but they also add costs that consumers must undertake, without guarantee that the unit will provide the adequate heating during extreme or cold conditions.
#3 Heat pump savings depend heavily on the fuel used
Another key factor that RMI fails to mention is how heat pump efficiency and the cost of fuel sources impact the costs for consumers. Its entire analysis is based on the following assumption:
“The ReEDS scenario was taken from the 2019 Standard Scenarios and assumed sustained low natural gas prices and low renewable energy costs through 2036”.
Despite the fact that RMI’s analysis recognizes the benefits on natural gas’ affordable prices in their cost-benefit calculation, the EERE points out that heat pump’s costs depends heavily on the price of the fuel used:
“Actual energy savings depend on the relative costs of the combustion fuel relative to electricity.”
In fact, electricity is more costly than natural gas, which has provided affordable and reliable energy for millions of Americans and has proven itself resilient even under undesirable conditions. While renewables have decreased in price, they are still proving their reliability and affordability in the long-term.
The natural gas industry will continue providing reliable, affordable and low-emission energy to our communities. KIITG groups’ efforts to undermine the natural gas industry’s accomplishments only inhibits a healthy diversification of the U.S. power grid and misinforms the energy transition conversation.
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