Cutting the power (bill)

Posted on March 01, 2023 | By Moira Donovan | 0 Comments


Heat pumps not the only alternative to pricey and carbon-heavy fossil fuels

Let’s imagine you’re taking a stroll around an older residential neighborhood in Atlantic Canada, in mid-winter. Depending on what town you’re in, the ground might be blanketed in snow, or—at least in 2022—unseasonably green.

Either way, let’s assume the wind is howling, the kind of battering that sends icy drafts sneaking in around the edges of windows and steals the heat out from under the door. For those inside, this can be a painful experience, and not just because of bitingly cold floors and chilly mornings. Roughly 30 per cent of households in Atlantic Canada still rely on heating oil—a kind of heat that, after a year of double-digit increases in oil and gas prices, is burning through money as well as fossil fuels.

This has broader consequences, too. Residential and non-residential buildings account for approximately 12 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, largely due to heating water and space heating. In Atlantic Canada, this figure is even higher—including 26 per cent in Nova Scotia, and 22 per cent in P.E.I. (Newfoundland and Labrador and New Brunswick are closer to the national average). It’s a disparity that can be explained by the higher proportion of older homes, as well as the heat source: all that heat flowing from oil furnaces, and out through old windows and poorly insulated walls, to be carried away by the howling winter wind.

In at least some of these houses, though, there are alternatives in place: rectangular boxes mounted outside, quietly delivering heat through the efficient use of electricity. As much as Atlantic Canada leads the nation in the emissions intensiveness of heat, it’s also a leader in the use of heat pumps. With much of the new federal funding aimed at deploying more heat pumps nationwide having been reserved for the Atlantic provinces—not to mention ongoing provincial incentives—the significance of heat pumps to the region’s energy future only stands to increase.

Yet some say this vision is more complicated than it appears, and that everything from the need for more training programs for heat pump technicians, to the need for technologies that can fill in the gaps in home heating, could affect how widely heat pumps will be deployed—and how well they’ll succeed at what we hope they’ll achieve. In other words, in this vision of an Atlantic Canadian neighborhood in winter, trying to transition to heat that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels, it might be what’s not in the picture—not yet, anyway—that makes the difference.

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