Energy Efficiency | January 10, 2024

The Rising Popularity of Heat Pumps and the Challenges of Commercial Retrofits

Heat pumps are becoming increasingly popular across many parts of the U.S., thanks to their energy efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to other building heating and cooling options.

Why it Matters: While heat pumps are an excellent step towards energy efficiency and emissions reduction, they are just one piece of the puzzle. A comprehensive facility asset assessment can help identify other opportunities for improvement and ensure that all aspects of a facility are working together towards increased efficiency, decreased energy usage, and improved sustainability.

The U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of 25 governors, has recently pledged to increase heat pump installations across their states to reach 20 million by 2030. Currently, the U.S. has around five (5) million heat pump installations.

However, adoption varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, concerns about initial expenses and the intricacies involved in selecting appropriate heat pump equipment have slowed adoption. On the other hand, Maine has already surpassed its 2025 target of 100,000 heat pumps. Maine Gov. Janet Mills recently established a more ambitious target of reaching 175,000 heat pumps by 2027.

Facility managers looking to deploy heat pumps in existing buildings are finding cost concerns — despite the availability of federal incentives — along with the significant work and disruption involved in a retrofit.

The feasibility of retrofitting existing buildings with heat pumps varies from building to building. It’s certainly a proven technology. However, just doing a swap-out of your HVAC system for a heat pump system may not be the best strategy.

Challenges with Heat Pump Installation

There are a couple of key challenges to consider when considering installing heat pumps at scale. First, there’s building occupancy. The ability to make such a significant renovation in a building is very much occupant-driven.

Second is maintaining space heating which can include space heating or, alternatively, domestic hot water heating. There is growing evidence that heat pumps work best at lower water temperatures. Retrofitting heat pumps in existing buildings can involve reducing the water temperature from 180 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Estimates suggest that the overall cost of retrofitting a typical gas-powered office building in New York state with a ground-source heat pump ranges from $17 to $24 per square foot, while the cost for an air-source heat pump would range from $12 to $21 per square foot.

Despite these challenges, there are ongoing efforts to retrofit buildings with heat pumps. For instance, there’s an initiative by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority aiming to rapidly electrify one of New York City’s century-old buildings.

The Importance of Comprehensive Facility Asset Assessment

In the pursuit of operational efficiency, cost reduction, and greenhouse gas emission reduction, it’s crucial to conduct a thorough assessment of all facility assets. This goes beyond just looking at heating and cooling systems. It involves a comprehensive review of all aspects of a facility, including roofs, lighting, and building automation systems.

Every component of a facility contributes to its overall energy efficiency. It’s like putting together a puzzle: Each piece, no matter how small, plays a vital role in completing the picture. Overlooking even one aspect can lead to inefficiencies and increased operating costs.

Roofs, for instance, play a significant role in maintaining the internal temperature of a building. A well-insulated roof can significantly reduce the load on heating and cooling systems, leading to substantial energy savings.

Lighting is another critical area. Switching to energy-efficient lighting options like LED can result in significant energy savings. Moreover, implementing smart lighting solutions that adjust based on natural light availability can further enhance energy efficiency.

Building automation systems are the nerve center of a facility. They control and monitor various systems within the building, including HVAC, lighting, and more. A well-designed and efficiently running building automation system can optimize energy use across these systems, leading to substantial cost savings and emission reductions.

A comprehensive facility asset assessment is not just about identifying opportunities for improvement. It’s about understanding how different systems within a facility interact with each other. This holistic view allows us to identify synergies and make improvements that have the most significant impact.

How to Best Plan for the Heat Pump Transition

A holistic energy and facility asset management consultant like Mantis Innovation can capture the data from your facilities and assess all aspects of your facility assets to uncover the best options for improving operational efficiencies, reducing operating costs, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The custom solution for your organization’s unique needs may, in fact, be a mix of different tactics, across several assets, and even involving your energy procurement strategy.

Contact a Mantis pro today and find out what your opportunities are to heat up your own facilities management program.