Heat Pumps show up as #42 in Drawdown’s list of climate solutions, with experts predicting a 5.2-gigaton drop in carbon dioxide emissions through 2050 if the solution is adopted by 45% of the market. Replacing air conditioners and gas furnaces with high-efficiency heat pumps has a net implementation cost of roughly US$119 billion, but would produce estimated savings of nearly $1.55 trillion.
Drawdown describes heat pumps as “high-efficiency electrical devices that harvest latent heat from ambient sources such as the ground, air, or water” to warm or cool conditioned spaces.
“Like a refrigerator, a heat pump has a compressor, condenser, expansion valve, and evaporator, and transfers heat from a cold space to a hot one,” the summary explains. “In winter, that means pulling heat from outside and sending it into a building. In summer, heat is pulled from inside and sent out.”
At present, use of heat pumps is low—just 0.02 percent of the market—but as costs fall, industry leaders expect their use to rise. Heating and cooling homes and businesses accounts for about 31% of global energy use every year, Drawdown says, and that market is growing: by 2050, around 18,000 terawatt-hours of electricity will be needed, and heat pumps can meet much of the global demand.
“With an increasing population and rising incomes, it is estimated that the global number of households could grow by more than 65% and the floor area of commercial and institutional buildings by nearly 200% by 2050,” says Drawdown. “In the absence of aggressive policy action for reduced energy consumption, the global cooling and heating energy demand is expected to increase substantially.”
By retrofitting existing heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems and incorporating heat pumps into new construction designed for efficient use of renewable energy, this solution could cut almost all emissions that arise from the need to heat and cool living and working spaces.