The recently-proposed HEATR Act could accelerate heat pump adoption in the United States, deliver cost savings for consumers, and attract support from both sides of the aisle, say two commentators from opposite sides of the country’s fraught political spectrum.
“There aren’t many policies we agree on. But this is one that we both see as a pragmatic, common sense proposal,” write Nate Adams, co-founder of HVAC 2.0 and a self-professed blue-collar conservative, and Alexander Gard-Murray, an “Ivy League liberal” and political economist studying policies to accelerate decarbonization, in a post for Canary Media.
The HEATR Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in early May and is co-sponsored by a palette of Democratic senators. A key provision encourages manufacturers to convert their entire supply of traditional central air conditioners into two-way heat pumps. Compared to traditional devices, which can only provide customers with cool air and a high energy bill, two-way heat pumps can both heat and cool a home and are two to four times more efficient.
According to Adams and Gard-Murray, the market is already starting to move toward greater heat pump uptake, but the legislation could boost that momentum by giving manufacturers the confidence to make the switch. Though heat pumps and air conditioners differ by only a few parts that collectively cost only a few hundred dollars, supply chain markups and installation costs make that difference much greater, discouraging customers from adopting the new technology. And because home heating and cooling systems have a relatively long lifespan, each new air conditioning installation is a missed opportunity that is difficult to correct for 15 to 20 years.
“When a homeowner installs a new central AC, the chance of electrifying their heating before 2040 drops sharply,” the two co-authors write. “Locking in outdated infrastructure in this way pushes back the clock for American decarbonization by decades.”
A measure like the HEATR Act provision could help change that dynamic and yield significant benefits for consumers. In a previous study, Adams and Gard-Murray found that a government program of this kind could save consumers US$27 billion over a decade, with $169 in annual energy savings for the average family. And by replacing other heat sources like gas, oil, and wood, heat pumps can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“Even homes in Florida, which have only a handful of heating days each year, can benefit,” they write.
The benefits would extend to lower-income homeowners, and offer especially large savings—potentially amounting to $1,000 or more annually—for people in rural areas who rely on expensive heat sources such as oil, propane, and electric resistance heating, Adams and Gard-Murray said.