Carbon and Energy Cost Impacts of Electrification of Space Heating with Heat Pumps in the US

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Journal Article

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In order to meet climate goals, it will be necessary to significantly reduce the greenhouse gases emitted by homes. A key factor in the US is to reduce the on-site combustion of fossil fuels for heating end-uses and to replace this with use of electric heat pump technologies connected to a low-carbon grid. The replacement of natural gas furnaces with electric heat pumps is a key home decarbonization strategy. However, the potential for space heating electrification to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depends on the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) content of the electricity used by the heat pump. This varies
considerably depending on the source of electricity, with large state to state variability. Furthermore, household energy costs are likely to be impacted by the electrification of space heating, because retail energy prices for both natural gas and electricity in each state vary by factors of seven and four, respectively. Contractors, energy programs, government and building code officials, as well as consumers need clear indications of the likely CO2e and energy cost impacts of proposed electrification projects, because these will affect decarbonization choices and rationales around scaled heating electrification. Government and utility programs also need to be aware of the likely outcomes of any supported/incentivized measures. In this paper, we investigate these effects by looking at new metrics to analyze the change in CO2e emitted and the cost to meet home heating loads when switching from a natural gas furnace to a heat pump for the contiguous 48 states of the mainland US.

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