Sometimes Simple Technologies Can Make All The Difference In Fighting Climate Change

In the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, glitzy technology like solar panels and electric vehicles get a lot of attention.  But often times there are some simple and relatively cheap technologies that can make just as much difference, particularly when looking at the costs.

lg_a-a_outside_unitEnergy efficiency measures are a great example.  Conserving energy is just as powerful, if not more so, than buying emissions-free energy like solar power.  But it’s much cheaper.  Case in point: updating your cable box to take advantage of new efficiency features can save you a lot on your utility bill.

Now David Roberts at flags another promising technology: the heat pump.

A heat pump is a “mechanical-compression cycle refrigeration system” that can serve as both a furnace and an air conditioner (indeed, many air conditioners are just one-way heat pumps). From manufacturer Trane:

Even in air that seems too cold, heat energy is present. When it’s cold outside a heat pump extracts this outside heat and transfers it inside. When it’s warm outside, it reverses directions and acts like an air conditioner, removing heat from your home.

Because it merely moves, rather than generates, heat, it is far more efficient than combustion furnaces.

They key feature for our purposes is that heat pumps run on electricity. When Siemens modeled shifting 80 percent of citywide heat consumption over from natural gas to electric heat pumps, emissions declined another 14 percent…

Switching natural gas appliances to electric will be critical in the long term to reducing emissions from buildings.  Right now, most furnaces and ranges are natural gas powered, but heap pumps can make the transition to electric heating much easier.  Then when you combine it with emissions-free electricity such as from solar power, you’ve suddenly got a major climate win.

My guess is that with the right policy-based incentives (rebates and cheap financing), we could greatly spur consumer adoption of these technologies and ultimately bring the price down as economies of scale kick in.  It would be a big win for the climate and potentially a cost-effective use of our resources.


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