A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

New Efficiencies: HeatSmart pushes Air and Ground Systems

By Paul Smart

It’s heating season. No one likes the onslaught of winter bills, and even less, the idea of building staggering climate-related debts for our children and grandchildren.

Enter the latest element in the state’s clean energy goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Clean Heating and Cooling Communities Campaign initiative, and Catskill Mountainkeeper and Sustainable Hudson Valley’s continuing push to help Hudson Valley and Catskills homeowners more efficiently face their energy challenges.

Combine that sense of altruistic and energy-saving drive with a cutting edge educational component—that in addition to pushing towards non-combustible sources for electricity via the sun, wind, and water power, new heat pumps can help one shift one’s home’s energy sources fully—and another element of our Deindustrializing Revolution falls into place.

“HeatSmart Ulster-Sullivan is a new campaign funded by NYSERDA as part of the state’s efforts to support people who are considering the switch to heat pumps and heat pump water heaters. Similar to Solarize Hudson Valley, a successful campaign with Kingston, Saugerties, Marbletown, and Woodstock as key partners, we will be providing high quality education followed by group purchase discounts with installation contractors that we select through a rigorous RFP process,” noted Melissa Everett, director of Sustainable Hudson Valley, the program’s managers alongside Catskill Mountainkeeper. “NYSERDA approached us as a natural follow-on to Solarize and Drive Electric Hudson Valley. We are beginning with an educational focus on building efficiency and will start actual heat pump group purchase campaigns in early 2019. I have these gadgets at home and they are paying for the upfront cost in roughly five years, through reduced heating oil demand—and they air condition fabulously.”

The big shift from previous Solarize and electric car awareness programs, Everett added, is the fact that “not so many people are aware of heat pumps, so we have to be resourceful and creative.” The new push will be to build on people’s will throughout the region to move “away from polluting technologies and toward those that are intrinsically more efficient because they are based on conversion rather than combustion,” which includes cheap natural gas made possible from fracking technologies.

HeatSmart Ulster-Sullivan is one of eight such NYSERDA-funded community-led campaigns across the state, pushing new heating and cooling systems such as ground-source (geothermal) and air-source heat pumps designed especially for cold climates. Things will kick off with classes on ways to better insulate one’s home, then set up participants to work with two local contractors, Energy Conservation Specialists and the Hudson Valley Green Energy Group, that were competitively selected to help customers better understand their building and energy efficiency needs, and purchase the new heat pumps with a variety of incentive packages designed to help homeowners start reducing their costs and creating better efficiencies for the future.  

The new heat pumps work with technologies that first came to light last year via the geothermal units pioneered in Rhinebeck by Dandelion, an offshoot of Google’s parent company Alphabet. Air source heat pumps, which have been around in various forms since the 1970s, are systems which transfer heat from outside to inside a building, or vice versa, using principles of vapor compression refrigeration involving a compressor and a condenser to absorb heat at one place and release it at another, and are sometimes called “reverse-cycle air conditioners.” They work on the fact that there are elements of energy at all temperatures, and new advances that allow for such heat transfers below earlier thresholds of approximately five degrees Fahrenheit.

As for the costs associated with shifting one’s heat in such ways, Everett said that while “contractors are cautious about predicting exact payback period since it depends on fuel prices, extremes of winter/summer temperatures, and patterns of use,” she’s found that they tend to get fully reimbursed, with NYSERDA incentives, within five to six years.

Ground source or geothermal systems tend to run in the $30,000 to $40,000 range, and air source systems in the $3,000 to $11,000 range, depending on the number of heating zones and ducts utilized. Current incentives include rebates through NYSERDA, 30 percent federal tax credits, and local energy company savings.

Everett pointed out that the entire process of shifting homes to air and ground heat systems will not only work efficiently with moves from combustible to sun and wind power, but also help build and sustain a specialized work force aimed at all the new and expanding energy efficiencies.

HeatSmart Ulster-Sullivan will hold local events to inform and sign up residents and businesses in Sullivan and Ulster Counties throughout the next two and a half years. For more information, visit the renewableny.org/heatsmart.