Switching to efficient electric heat pumps and appliances could save Oregon $1.1B through 2050, study finds

Oregon could save $1.1B by using electric heat pumps and efficient appliances

Oregon could save $1.1B by using electric heat pumps and efficient appliances

  • If Oregon switches to selling only zero-emissions residential heating and cooling appliances by 2030, it could reduce climate pollution by 2035. This would increase electricity demand from homes and buildings by 13% by the middle of the century, according to a recent report from Synapse Energy Economics.
  • The report, prepared for the Sierra Club, found that making this transition to renewable energy sources could lead to $1.1 billion in gas and electric system savings for the residential and commercial sector through 2050, with cost savings beginning in 2030.
  • The city of Eugene is currently developing a policy to stop developers from using natural gas in new construction. This will make Eugene the first city in Oregon to do this. Oregon is trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.

Meeting Oregon's climate goals will mean reducing the carbon dioxide emissions from residential and commercial buildings. These buildings produce 35% of the state's carbon dioxide emissions. One approach to reducing these emissions is to electrify building appliances and systems and switch to efficient electric heat pumps. There are two types of heat pumps, according to Fred Heutte, senior policy associate with the NW Energy Coalition: those that can provide air heating and air conditioning, and those that provide hot water.

"We're getting ready to make a big change in the market," Heutte said. "Heat pumps are going to become more popular in the next few years." He added that this is based on work that has been happening for a long time. Making the switch to heat pumps means moving away from natural gas heating and older electric heating methods, which are not as efficient.

According to the report, there are two ways to electrify everything by 2025 or 2030. Electrifying everything by 2025 would reduce carbon emissions by 56% by 2035. But this would also increase electricity consumption 12% by 2030. Electrifying everything by 2030 would reduce carbon emissions by 56% too, but it would only increase electricity consumption 13% by the middle of the century.

The 2030 pathway would reduce emissions by 47% by 2035 while increasing the demand for electricity by 10%. The study found that these efforts would likely lead to lower energy system costs in both scenarios. The 2030 pathway is estimated to lead to $1.1 billion in savings through 2050, while the 2025 pathway saves around $1.7 billion in the same timeframe.

Heat pump technology can help the power system by shifting load around. This is because they can be scheduled to operate outside of peak electricity demand hours. Heat pumps essentially function like a kind of battery storage. "In effect, what you’re doing is shifting the renewable energy from when it’s generated to when it’s needed," explained Heutte, by, for instance, pre-heating water or pre-cooling a house. "All those things are basically smart ways to manage the customer side of energy use."

The report showed that if more people used heat pump technology, the amount of electricity used in Oregon residential buildings would go down, even if the number of homes doubling using electricity for heating and water heating went up. Dylan Plummer, senior campaign representative with Sierra Club, said this in an email. However, one challenge to more widespread adoption of heat pump technology is making sure that the financial burden of the transition does not fall on historically marginalized households.

This is why many organizations in our state are trying to put policies in place that will fund targeted retrofit programs. They want the clean energy transition to have economic and racial equity at its core.

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