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Heat and Cool Your Town More Efficiently with Clean Technologies

On Tuesday, April 4, MAPC and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) convened a workshop for municipalities on clean heating and cooling. The event was the first in a series of upcoming events and publications to promote the adoption of efficient heating and cooling solutions in municipal facilities and in the residential and commercial sectors.

Approximately 50 people from across the MAPC region attended the April workshop to learn about clean heating and cooling (CHC) technologies and funding and financing options; see case studies of successful projects; and tour a geothermal, or ground-source, heat pump project at Roxbury Community College.

So what is clean heating and cooling (CHC) technology anyway? According to Peter McPhee, the director of clean heating and cooling programs at MassCEC, clean heating is “a heating system that directly uses or amplifies naturally-occurring thermal energy such as sunlight, ambient air or ground temperature, or biomass/biofuels” resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions and, in the right situation, lower costs.

“I think what we’re looking at is really the future of heating and cooling and I don’t say that lightly,” says McPhee. “I think in 20 years these technologies will be front and center for decisions about how to heat and cool buildings and we’re going to see these technologies with their high levels of efficiency, comfort, and environmental benefits be what modern heat is considered in the future.”

The Technology

Clean heating and cooling technologies highlighted at the CHC workshop include air source heat pumps, ground source heat pumps, and solar hot water.

  • Air Source Heat Pumps – Operating on electricity, heat pumps move heat into or outside of a building. According to MassCEC, efficient heat pumps can provide the same amount of heating for a third of the electricity needed for traditional electric heating. Like traditional air conditioners, air source heat pumps can be installed as central air (commercially called variable refrigerant flow (VRF)) or split units in a single room.
    • VRFs – provide air and heat to the whole building through wall units and ceiling cassettes and are primarily used for large facilities.
    • Mini-Splits – provide heating and cooling to a single room using wall-mounted units, ceiling cassettes, or floor units.
Via MassCEC
  • Ground Source Heat Pumps/Geothermal – This is a central heating system – most common in new construction and full renovations – that transfers heat to or from the ground. It’s the most efficient and long-lasting technology and distributes air or heat through VRF or forced air. According to MassCEC, efficient ground source heat pumps can provide the same amount of heat using 65 to 80 percent less electricity than traditional heating
via MassCEC
via MassCEC

Projects featured at the CHC workshop include the under-construction ground source heat pump installation at Roxbury Community College, and fully-installed ground source heat pumps in affordable housing, air source heat pumps in public housing, and a solar thermal hot water system at the Worcester State Wellness Center.

The Benefits

In 2014, the State reported that 33 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts come from heating buildings. For comparison, 39 percent comes from the entire transportation sector and 20 percent from electricity. Updating buildings with efficient heating and cooling systems or including them in new buildings can help dramatically reduce carbon emissions – helping Massachusetts and individual municipalities meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

And are there other benefits besides carbon emissions reductions?

“We usually think of [clean heating and cooling technologies] as having three main benefits: cost savings, proved comfort, and environmental benefits,” says McPhee. “We’re typically supporting technologies that offer all three of those benefits under the right situations.”

First, the cost benefits: the average household in Massachusetts spends $1,700 annually on home heating – $2,400 if they live in an area without natural gas. Heating with oil, propane, and electricity can be significantly more expensive than heating with natural gas. For example, many households of western Massachusetts, as well as parts of the North and South Shore, pay significantly more for heating because many of their homes are heated with oil, propane or electricity. Under the right conditions, clean heating and cooling technologies use less fuel, often resulting in cost savings.

These systems also tend to improve overall comfort in a building in comparison with older, outdated technologies.

“Air source and ground source heat pumps with a VRF distribution system can have different thermostats and controls in each individual room that they serve, and can deliver different heating and cooling in different areas of the building,” McPhee says. “Those systems are highly configurable and often can help address heating and cooling balance in tricky places that traditional systems haven’t served well.”

As these CHC systems grow more popular, the industry will also grow, providing local economic benefits and increasing jobs in the sector.

Financing

Although clean heating and cooling systems can sometimes have higher upfront costs, an array of state and federal rebate, incentive, and financing options can help bring costs down and shorten the payback period. MassCEC offers commercial- and residential-scale grants for mini-split air-source heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps, solar hot water and biomass heating, and is working to offer grants for larger VRF air source systems incentivizing 15 to 50 percent of upfront project costs depending on the technology.

MassSave also offers rebates, while federal tax credits can pay for up to 30 percent of the costs for businesses. Learn more about financing options here.

Learn more

In late Spring, MAPC will release a comprehensive guide on clean heating and cooling technologies for municipal facilities. The toolkit will be part one in a heating and cooling series produced by MAPC. To learn more, email Axum Teferra, Energy Planner, at ateferra@mapc.org.

To learn more about MassCEC’s clean heating and cooling programs, click here.