That magical-seeming efficiency is what makes them such a powerful decarbonization tool. Replacing old-fashioned, inefficient water heaters with heat pumps slashes energy consumption. That in turn drives emissions down; according to the New Buildings Institute switching to a HPWH saves more than 2,000 pounds of CO2 annually. It also drives utility bills down – according to ENERGY STAR a family of four would save $550 a year using a HPWH!
How can we get more HPWHs into people’s homes?
There are two landmark policies that will help with this. First, as my colleague Lauren Urbanek has written, the Inflation Reduction Act is a powerful tool to help homeowners access efficient products, HPWHs included.
Second, last month the Department of Energy finished collecting comments on a proposal that, when finalized, would help drive the market toward the magical heat pump water heater.
As part of its efficiency standards program—one of the most impactful emissions-reducing programs the federal government has in its toolkit—DOE has proposed critical increases to the minimum energy efficiency of new water heaters. (DOE’s proposal was very similar to a recommendation negotiated by a coalition of stakeholders, including NRDC.) What that means is, after the rule is finalized and fully in effect, new water heaters will have to be much more efficient. In particular, the vast majority of new electric water heaters (with some exceptions for specific applications, particularly space-constrained installations) will have to use heat pump technology.
For consumers, this doesn’t mean any changes to your existing water heater, and the regulation does not require early retirement of existing products. But once the regulation is in effect, your next water heater will be much more efficient, and more affordable too. By shifting most of the electric water heater market to heat pumps and thus increasing their market share, the cost of heat pumps will decrease through economies of scale. The standards will particularly benefit renters, whose landlords often buy cheap, inefficient products, sticking renters with the higher utility bills.
There is no single silver bullet that will deliver us to a climate-safe future, nor is there one to solve the building sector’s share of emissions. Fortunately, however, heat pumps are a versatile tool that can get us a lot of the way there. But they won’t just magically appear in people’s homes, we need policies to increase their availability and affordability. Policies like the Inflation Reduction Act, and DOE’s efficiency standards, are just the thing. It might not be as fun as a birthday or Halloween, but the incredible potential of this climate-friendly appliance makes Heat Pump Water Heater Day a holiday worth celebrating in my book.