There’s never been a better time for a heat pump revolution

Heat pumps are quickly emerging as the HVAC technology of the future. We just need more of them.

An aerial view of houses packed close together.

It's time for heat pumps.

Photo: Breno Assis/Unsplash

Scorching temperatures have blanketed the U.S. Searing heat has hit Europe, too, with a ferocity unseen in recorded history for this time of year. And summer? It’s just getting started.

Climate change is making extreme heat more likely and intense. And the air conditioners we use to stay cool are making matters worse. As more locations turn to air conditioning, a novel solution is springing up that could keep things cool in summer and warm in winter — and not ravage the climate. Heat pumps are gaining increasing traction in the public consciousness, and policymakers are starting to get the memo, too.

The drumbeat for heat pumps started in earnest last year, after the Pacific Northwest roasted through a heat wave that was dubbed a “mass casualty event.” The stifling heat hit a region where many people don’t have air conditioning at all due to relatively mild summers. Heat pumps are able to do double duty by both heating and cooling, making them a good fit for a region that can be rather, shall we say, inclement in the winter.

But the profile of heat pumps has risen even further in the wake of the Russian war against Ukraine. Climate author and activist Bill McKibben first raised the idea of #heatpumpsforpeace as a way to help Europe and the U.S. lower demand for Russian gas this coming winter. And President Joe Biden used the Defense Production Act earlier this month to kick heat pump manufacturing into overdrive.

“Reducing America’s dependence on gas and oil is critical to U.S. national security,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said at the time of the announcement.

Heat pumps come in two main flavors: air and ground source. They work using roughly the same principle, though: by either pumping or dumping heat from your home. (“This Old House” has a great explainer.) This all happens without the use of fossil fuels, making heat pumps a key tool in the fight to decarbonize the world.

Air conditioners work the same way, so heat pumps aren’t a huge source of energy and carbon savings in the summer. But where they shine is the winter, which is when people usually fire up gas-powered furnaces or wood- and oil-burning ones that are even bigger polluters. A report by home energy research firm Carbon Switch estimates that switching U.S. single-family homes to heat pumps could save 142 million metric tons of carbon each year.

The Defense Production Act could help start that transition. One particularly effective avenue might be guaranteeing sales, according to Carbon Switch founder Michael Thomas. That would be akin to Big Tech’s recent $925 million carbon dioxide removal commitment, but with the muscle of the federal government behind it and climate-saving technology that already exists.

That could also help bring costs down for individuals looking to chuck a heat pump in their basement or outside their home, which would be a huge boon. Carbon Switch’s research shows that heat pumps would save the average home $557 per year, but they do require a rather a bit more of an upfront investment compared to furnaces or air conditioning. A bill introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar last month called the HEATR Act would make heat pumps even more affordable by offering up to $1,000 in tax credits.

Despite the clear appeal of heat pumps as the world tries to electrify everything and reduce carbon pollution, hurdles still remain. For one, the Biden administration will need Congress to kick in more money for the Defense Production Act, which has been invoked for everything from solar panels to baby formula in recent months. Without money, the proclamation is largely symbolic. Congress also needs to actually pass the HEATR Act for any of those benefits to make it to heat pump-curious homeowners.

Then there are the supply chain woes affecting seemingly everything, including heat pump parts. Thomas said he’s heard from numerous installers that they have a record number of orders and a shortage of parts to fulfill said orders. Clearing up that bottleneck will be crucial to speeding up deployment.

There’s a weird paradox we’ll also have to overcome with heat pumps. They run on electricity rather than fossil fuels. That’s decidedly a good thing for the climate, but the grid will also have to evolve in tandem to ensure we have enough carbon-free electricity to keep the lights, heat pumps and more on.

“The solution … isn't to keep using fossil fuel heating. It's to build more renewables and capacity,” Thomas said. “That's why it's so important that we increase the production of renewables and do everything we can to get around NIMBYs and utility lobbying, all this stuff that's really holding the grid back.”


Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

Keep ReadingShow less
Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

Keep ReadingShow less
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

Keep ReadingShow less
Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

Keep ReadingShow less
Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.


Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

Keep ReadingShow less
Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

Latest Stories