Overcoming barriers to heat pump adoption in cold climates and avoiding the ‘energy poverty trap’

Source: Michigan News

Professional Middle Aged HVAC Technician in Red Uniform Repairing Modern Heat Pump Unit. House Heating and Cooling System Theme.

Converting home heating systems from natural gas furnaces to electric heat pumps is seen as a way to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But a new University of Michigan study of 51 Southeast Michigan households shows that switching to efficient, cold-climate heat pumps would increase annual utility bills by an average of about $1,100.

Home weatherization upgrades, such as adding attic insulation and sealing around doors and windows, could help reduce utility bills and make electric heating more affordable.

But those energy retrofits are expensive and are likely beyond the reach of many low-income households, which could lead to what the researchers call an energy poverty trap.

“The clean energy transition is hindered by an energy poverty trap because the extensive retrofits needed to make electrification affordable are themselves too expensive for low-income households,” said study lead author Claire McKenna, a doctoral candidate at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability.

“Our findings suggest that heat pumps are not a feasible economic alternative for households currently using natural gas, unless governments offset energy cost premiums through public funding. Policymakers should act to help lower the operating costs of heat pumps compared to natural gas for low-income households in cold climates.”

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