While most people might not be familiar with heat pump technology or how it works, it is used to help make them more comfortable every day at work, especially on hot summer days.
To feel a heat pump in action, all you need to do is stand near the interior vent of an air-conditioning unit. The flow of refreshingly cold air is the work of a heat pump, which has converted hot outside air to a comfortable interior temperature.
“A heat pump simply moves heat from one place to another, and an air conditioner is an example of one that is moving the energy in a single direction,” said Jim Fusco, senior account executive with Boland Trane, a provider of sustainable and energy-efficient HVAC solutions for commercial buildings in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.
Heat pump applications go beyond keeping people cool in the summer months. They can also warm a commercial building’s interior in cold weather and help the building operate much more sustainably, cutting energy costs. This is especially important considering that commercial real estate is responsible for approximately 40% of greenhouse gases emissions.
Bisnow spoke with Fusco to learn more about the use and benefits of heat pump technology in commercial buildings.
Bisnow: What advantages do heat pumps offer over alternative systems such as gas-fired boilers?
Fusco: One of the biggest benefits of a heat pump system is in helping a building decarbonize. Today, a lot of commercial buildings are heated by burning natural gas. That creates carbon dioxide, which is vented to the outside, ultimately carbonizing the atmosphere. If you remove that gas boiler or furnace and run the building entirely off of electricity produced by sustainable sources, you will stop burning fossil fuel.
However, to completely decarbonize, the challenge is in the source of your electricity. If your power plant is fossil fuel-powered, then all you're doing is moving the carbonization from one location to another. But if your electricity is coming from wind, solar or, in some regions, hydroelectric power, then you are achieving true decarbonization. With so many owners implementing corporate sustainability goals, decarbonization is crucial to decrease GHG emissions.
Bisnow: What are some other benefits to using heat pumps over alternative heating systems?
Fusco: It can be a source of free heat.
When you run a heat pump cycle, you may use 1 kilowatt of electric energy to run your heat pump’s compressor. But on warm days, if it's 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside and you want to heat the building, then for the 1 kilowatt of electric energy you need to run that compressor, you'll get 3 free kilowatts of equivalent energy from the outside air.
There is an excess of free energy waiting to be harnessed in the atmosphere and used inside buildings. This is known as the coefficient of performance. From a metric standpoint, we rate a good coefficient of performance at 3 or 3.5 kilowatts, and with a heat pump, if you spend 1 kilowatt, you’ll get 3 free kilowatts.
Bisnow: Can heat pumps help building owners reduce their operating costs?
Fusco: Yes, heat pumps can certainly help building owners reduce their operating costs. The heat from the atmosphere that you are harnessing is free in a sense, versus if those 3 kilowatts of energy had to be produced with fossil fuel. Without a heat pump, you'd be paying for three times as much fossil fuel.
Bisnow: Are incentives available to help defray the cost of switching from fossil fuels to a heat pump system?
Fusco: The Inflation Reduction Act, or IRA, has billions of dollars set aside for promoting, paying for and subsidizing heat pump systems like geothermal systems. The principle of geothermal is similar to what we’ve been talking about, but in this case, the energy comes from the earth instead of the atmosphere.
The IRA will subsidize heat pump systems by almost 40%. So if you drilled a million-dollar geothermal field, the government would give you $400K, which is funded by the act.
Bisnow: Tell us about the different types of heat pumps available for use in commercial buildings.
Fusco: Today, there are both air-source and water-source heat pumps. Air-source heat pumps collect the heat from the outside air and then put it into your space, whereas water-source heat pumps work in tandem with a geothermal system to extract heat from the earth, transfer the heat from the earth into the water, and then suck it back up with the heat pump to extract the heat and deliver it into the building.
Boland Trane offers both types of heat pumps at four different levels of efficiency, depending on the user’s needs, from the most basic builder-grade model to ones that would work with much more complex systems. While heat pumps lately are getting a lot of attention for their environmental benefits, our company has more than 60 years of experience in designing and manufacturing heat pumps.
This article was produced in collaboration between Boland Trane and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Boland. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.