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A new online calculator shows how much money households in Canada’s largest cities could save by transitioning their homes from gas heat and air conditioning to a heat pump.
Released Thursday by the Canadian Climate Institute, the interactive calculator looks at five cities across the country: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. Nearly half of all households in Canada use natural gas, a planet-warming fossil fuel, as their main heating source, followed by electricity at 37 per cent.
The calculator is accompanied by a report, which found that the lifetime cost of a standard heat pump using an electric backup system is 13 per cent lower than a gas system with air conditioning.
“We crunched the numbers and found that heat pumps are a lower-cost option than gas heating with air conditioning for most Canadians across the country,” explained Sarah Miller, research lead on adaptation at the Canadian Climate Institute.
“Heat pumps are a cost-effective way to stay warm in winter and cool in summer, all while lowering harmful emissions.”
Heat pumps, which act as heaters in the winter and air conditioners in the summer, are becoming an increasingly popular swap for homes running on natural gas and oil. Heating systems that use fossil fuels can reach up to 98 per cent efficiency, while heat pumps can be 200 to 540 per cent efficient because they transfer heat rather than generate it. Since they use much less electricity and don’t run on fossil fuels, they are a way to limit emissions, especially as Canada moves towards its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, which is when any greenhouse gas emissions produced in the country are offset.
The calculator allows you to start by choosing from one of the five cities they studied or see results based on an average of all five if you live elsewhere. Then you choose what type of building you live in and the approximate year it was built. The results show the cost differences between a year of electricity bills with gas heat and air conditioning, compared to a standard heat pump or a cold climate heat pump. The heat pump options include the price of the unit spread out over its expected lifetime. You can look at a more detailed breakdown, which shows the carbon emissions from each energy scenario.
The analysis didn’t assume that energy-efficiency upgrades took place before heat pump installations.
A new calculator from @ClimateInstit shows how much money households in Canada’s largest cities could save by transitioning their homes from gas heat and air conditioning to a heat pump.
Costs vary between cities largely depending on regional energy prices and climate conditions: in colder parts of the country, heat pumps may have to rely more on backup energy sources. The report notes Halifax and Montreal as having relatively lower electricity costs, and Vancouver and Halifax as having relatively temperate climates.
“In contrast, Edmonton’s low gas prices and cold climate contribute to making heat pumps less cost competitive, though heat pumps become more cost competitive under high gas and low electricity cost assumptions,” notes the report.
While the calculator doesn’t have an option for other sources of heat — such as electricity or home heating oil — Kate Harland, research lead on mitigation at the Canadian Climate Institute, explained they narrowed in on gas because there is misinformation around the fossil fuel and a general information gap on how well they tee up cost-wise compared to heat pumps.
If someone is in Halifax, where oil accounts for 36 per cent of home heating, Harland said the case for heat pumps is even stronger because of the price of home heating oil.
The report stresses there are roadblocks for many people who would like to install heat pumps: upfront costs not covered by rebates or that aren’t returned until after installation; confusing or inconvenient rebate programs (authors note the required home energy audit that people must pay for before they know if they qualify for the Greener Homes grant); and a lack of access for renters.
To encourage people to switch and benefit from cost savings from heat pumps, various levels of government should maintain current rebate programs while making them easier to access, implement maximum temperature limits and require new buildings to install non-polluting and efficient heating and cooling systems, says the report.
“Heat pumps offer a lower-cost way to heat and cool most homes in Canada — beating out gas and air conditioning dollar-for-dollar,” said Rick Smith, president of the Canadian Climate Institute.
“Canada has an incredible opportunity to help people save on energy bills, reduce climate pollution and provide life-saving cooling in extreme heat like we saw this summer.”