Jason Nadzam stood recently in a cavernous workshop at Community College of Allegheny County’s West Hills complex near the Pittsburgh International Airport. A group of 12 students gathered around him for a morning of training in HVAC – heating, ventilation and air conditioning.He stood next to a demonstration heat pump, a collection of tubes and wires that looked like an air conditioner linked to a digital screen.He pointed out basic components – valves, sensors, circuit boards that allow a technician to diagnose a problem in the machine – then turned it on. A motor started to rev, higher and higher, for several minutes.“Eventually, this thing is going to ramp to full speed, and it’s going to stay at full speed,” Nadzam said. He reached down below a section of pipe. “If you put your hand down here… it’s cold. So it’s picking up heat from the air out here and moving it.”
Reid R. Frazier
StateImpact PennsylvaniaJason Nadzam and student DJ Eversole, 18, troubleshoot a heat pump at an HVAC class at Community College of Allegheny County.
A climate solutionThis basic technique – moving heat from one part of the machine to another – is why heat pumps are being discussed as an essential tool to fight climate change. What electric vehicles are to transportation, heat pumps could be to keeping your house warm.This little-known technology could help reduce one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in America: home heating. Because they run on electricity, it’s possible to operate heat pumps on zero-carbon sources, like wind, solar and nuclear.Getting the humble heat pump, which is basically an air conditioner that can run in reverse, into millions more homes, especially in cold parts of the country, won’t be easy. It will take convincing customers and contractors that they’re the right choice.
Reid R. Frazier
StateImpact PennsylvaniaA demonstration heat pump in Jason Nadzam’s HVAC class at Community College of Allegheny County.
Nadzam says there are economic reasons to install heat pumps in some houses, especially in rural areas.“You look at the price of what home heating oil is right now. You’re looking at $5 a gallon to fill a thousand-gallon tank to get you through winter. That’s a big pill to swallow,” said Nadzam.Buildings are second only to transportation as sources for greenhouse gasses, according to Amy Boyd, vice president of Climate & Clean Energy Policy at the Acadia Center in Boston, which helps Northeastern states meet climate targets.A University of California, Davis study found installing a heat pump could cut carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of global warming, around 38 to 53 percent from home heating.“Eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions that are coming from our heat, particularly in the Northeast, is one of the biggest things that an individual consumer can do to fight climate change,” Boyd said.Because it’s only moving heat around, not creating it, heat pumps are up to four times more efficient than a standard furnace. In the summer, they can reverse themselves, doubling as air conditioners. They rely on he …