What is a heat pump and why should I care as a solar installer?

The megatrend of electrification and how your solar business can take advantage of it
Author : 
July 5, 2022

At a recent team meeting discussing important solar trends, Emmett Miranker, our head of business development, relayed how he started to hear more about heat pumps in conversations with solar businesses.  Homeowners have been asking more and more questions about them - the costs, their efficiency, the installation process, etc.  

Even though these all seemed like important questions, Emmett was stuck on one question when this new technology came up in conversation:  “What the hell even is a heat pump?!”  

Irritatingly for him, our intern who is pursuing a mechanical engineering degree responded:  “Dumba**.  Let me tell you all about it!” 

If you don’t know what a heat pump is, or why heat pumps matter to your solar business, you’re not alone!  Many installers and industry experts are completely clueless about heat pumps and how they work.  Take Emmett for example, despite 11 years in the solar industry, and an active researcher around the energy transition, heat pumps never really came up.  Until now!  But why?  What made them relevant? 

The answer is electrification.  As homeowners, companies, and governments begin to turn away from fossil fuels, there's enormous headroom for electrification.  We’re already seeing this transition in people’s homes as they install solar panels, EV charging stations, and (you guessed it!) heat pumps.

While heat pump technology is not new, innovations in the market have led to a significant market growth and therefore, an increased number of consumers.  Around 180 million heat pumps were used for heating in 2020, and the global stock increased nearly 10% per year over the past 5 years.  In Florida, a state with one of the highest residential energy demands in the country, 

Nearly 40% of new HVAC system installs are heat pumps.”

As we in the solar industry know, homeowners are going electric in search of greater energy autonomy, lower energy costs, and a preference for environmentally friendly solutions.  In addition to the market’s capital growth, incentives and tax rebates will further influence consumers to turn towards low-carbon solutions like heat pumps instead of fossil-fuel based furnaces or burners in the years to come.  All these factors are leading towards a growing market for electric heating and cooling technologies. 

The heat pump market is expected to grow significantly over the next decade

Savvy solar businesses should know how to capitalize on this booming, if still nascent, heat pump market.  Look at it this way:  

Like batteries, heat pumps are another way you can increase the lifetime value of your solar customers and make those high customer acquisition costs worthwhile.  

After your homeowners buy solar, and have had a great experience with it, they will likely look for other technologies to further electrify their homes.  That’s where you come in.  In addition to batteries, you can sell them a heat pump — but only if you know what they are, as well as how to deliver an amazing customer experience with them. 

What are heat pumps?  And how do heat pumps work?

There are several types of heat pumps depending on what will work best based on the installation environment, including air-to-air, water source, and geothermal.  Air-to-air pumps are projected to be the most lucrative and are the ones most commonly installed by homeowners.  These residential energy-efficient heating and cooling systems work through the laws of thermodynamics by transferring air from higher to lower temperatures. 

No matter the type, all pumps contain an indoor, outdoor unit, and refrigerant lines.  In order to heat homes, the outdoor unit absorbs the heat from the cold air outside the unit (That’s right! Even in very cold temperatures air contains heat), compresses it through the refrigerant lines to increase the air’s temperature, and pushes it out into the indoor unit, warming up your home.  To cool, the process is reversed.  The indoor unit pulls warm air from inside your home and pushes it to the outdoor unit and, in the meantime, the refrigerant helps expel cool air into your home.

How do heat pumps work? A graphic explaining how heat pumps work
Image courtesy of Efficiency Vermont

The key to heat pumps is that they don’t create heat; they simply move it through the laws of thermodynamics and gas pressure.  That’s why they’re so energy efficient! 

What are the benefits of heat pumps?

Heat pumps bring many benefits to homeowners.  While there is a high cost of installation, they are cost-effective in the long-run, as any increase in electric bills is outweighed by a larger reduction in natural gas bills.  This is because pumps are extremely efficient.  They transfer up to three times more energy than they consume without reducing comfort for homeowners.  According to a recent Reuters article, in Florida

“Homeowners are turning to heat pump systems, due to their ability to deliver up to a 40% savings on energy bills without sacrificing comfort.”

Not only are heat pumps cost-effective for homeowners, but they are also safer!  As heat pumps don’t emit carbon monoxide and are not fossil fuel based, the air and atmosphere within a home will be cleaner and less polluted.  This is essential for long-term installations. 

Using heat-pumps also drastically reduces homeowners’ carbon footprint.  In residential settings, natural gas heating systems account for 38% of CO2 emissions.  Pumps don’t emit CO2 and are more efficient than electric heat resistance systems.  By coupling this with solar power, you’re now able to offer your customers a zero-carbon home. 

Due to the continued improvement in heat pump technology, their cost is bound to decrease over time.  They’re also inexpensive to run, energy efficient, sustainable, healthy, and have significant market growth.  Doesn’t all of this sound familiar?  Doesn’t it sound like solar 10 years ago?  Luckily for solar installers, selling heat pumps is very similar to selling solar! 

The future of heat pumps and solar 

As we continue on this megatrend of electrification, more and more solar customers will start to want heat pumps, electric stoves, EV chargers, and more as they electrify their homes.  Just as solar has grown, fully electrified homes are going to become the norm, and customers will look for companies that can help.  Solar installers can become energy service providers in the (not so distant) future.  

Solar installers can fill this need and become more than just a solar installer but a home energy service provider.  And as an energy service provider, it’s important that homeowners remember your brand after they’ve seen the success of your solar panels and have, hopefully, had a great customer experience.  

As you expand your product portfolio, you’ll want to automate many of the routine tasks that steer your focus away from new projects.  Bodhi can help!  As a personalized solar experience platform, we take pride in making sure that home-owners will remember your company post-installation, and we ensure that a relationship of trust is built between you and your customers.  If you’re looking to expand your product portfolio and gain an insight into electrification, or if you’re simply looking to increase your brand memorability or reduce repetitive tasks, we’d love to meet with you!

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