Heat Pump Close-Up

Having a clear understanding of heat pumps is critical to grasping the drawbacks of the EMP

In places with dry, mild weather, a heat pump (or a few) can be a reasonable solution for heating and cooling your home. In climates like New Jersey’s, however, heating homes exclusively with heat pumps is simply not practical.

dog cuddle

Strain on the Grid, Strain on Our Families

Has heat pump technology advanced in recent years? Absolutely. However, most New Jersey homes are not set up to rely on heat pumps as their sole source of heat.

Forcing this shift before the nation’s grid can accommodate it will create an unreasonable—and dangerous—strain, while creating an excessive—and long-term—financial strain on New Jersey’s families.

As the per-household costs reveal themselves to be far higher than the estimate of $4,000 to $7,000, which is laid out in the Energy Master Plan, families can also expect to experience the following:

  1. On the coldest days of the year, you won’t be warm enough with just a heat pump.
  2. You’ll run the risk of losing power with the cumulative strain on the grid—when you need heat the most.
The recent Wall Street Journal article “The Electrification of Everything: What You Need to Know,” addresses the concern that we are simply not yet ready for electrification at the scale being proposed.

“If we’re going to rely much more on electricity, we need to know the grid isn’t going to break down. Right now, we don’t know that, even for today’s level of demand.”

Amy Myers Jaffe, May 15, 2021

Amy Myers Jaffe is a research professor and the managing director of the Climate Policy Lab, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

Moving Forward Without Dropping Our Backup

For the bulk of the year, the level of heat pump use being suggested could work (barring cost concerns!). However, in the dead of winter, families will also need to use their existing heating systems in order to stay comfortable. The main concern is that with electrification, families will not have reliable, high quality heat at the most critical times.

This compromise would allow for lower installation cost, as fewer heat pumps would be needed if homeowners could continue to use their existing system as necessary—with sensible solutions that include a wide range of zero-carbon fuels in the near future.

How Do Heat Pumps Work?

The topic of heat pumps is integral to the conversation about the Energy Master Plan. First and foremost, let’s take a look at how heat pumps work.

Run on electricity, a mechanical-compression cycle refrigeration system, aka heat pump, can heat or cool space within a home. Here are the basics about how they operate:

heat pumpInside the home an air handler is installed. Outside, a unit that’s similar to a central A/C is mounted.
heat pumpRefrigerant moves between these two units, from inside to outside, and outside to inside. Depending on the temperature, it either releases heat (in cold weather) or absorbs heat (in hot weather).
heat pumpWhen the thermometer rises, the system works in reverse. In the heat, the heat pump behaves like an A/C, and heat inside the house moves outside.
heat pumpDuring cold weather, the heat pump moves outside heat inside. When temperatures drop too low, there is not enough heat in the outside air to adequately heat an entire house.

Understanding Ductless Mini-Split Systems & Lack of Curb Appeal

heat pumpFor New Jersey homes, ductless mini-split electric heat pumps work best as a secondary or limited-space heating solution, one that works best with an existing central heating system and that adds heating or cooling to one or two rooms, like a corner bedroom or a sunroom. Ideal for homes that don’t have ducts, these systems are installed differently from the heat pumps described above. A ductless system’s air handlers connect to the outdoor condenser with flexible tubing. A ductless mini-split can also be used as a cooling option in the summer, for the rooms where it’s set up.

Another factor in the installation of ductless mini-split systems is how they look. The inside unit looks like an air conditioner that is hung on the wall at the top of the room. These can be challenging to decorate around. The outside unit, also known as a condenser, is normally placed on the outside of the house closest to the location of the inside unit. Unlike a central air system where the condensing unit can be hidden on the side or in the back of the house, ductless mini-split condensers often need to be placed on the front of the house. The result, like the image shown here, is often unattractive.

What’s Next?

The next sensible step in this effort is for the New Jersey State Legislature to focus on the Energy Master Plan and make adjustments that accommodate the needs and views of residents of the state.