Heat Pumps and the Future of the “Grid”

Heat Pumps and the Future of the “Grid”

Author:  Robert DeAngelis

As we transition away from fossil fuels, we will rely more heavily on renewable electricity and our electric grid.  We will migrate our cars and home heating systems to clean grid-supplied electricity.  Geothermal or air source heat pumps are the best current options for home heating.  You may wonder what impact will the added electrical usage have?  Will the grid be able to handle this?

I attended an excellent seminar held by New York Geothermal Energy Organization (NY-GEO), a not-for-profit trade association representing the geothermal heat pump (GHP) industry in New York State, on Tuesday November 9th.  The keynote speakers were Mark Kleinginna of Integral Energy and Jens Ponikau of Buffalo Geothermal.  They showed the impact of electrification of our heating systems and electric car-charging on the grid.  They pointed out that the grid must be sized for peak use.  Historically, this peak use period was summer afternoons in New York State.  In the future, it will be winter mornings.  If we all migrate to air source heat pumps (which lose efficiency as the temperature decreases) the grid will be in big trouble on those coldest days.  Alternatively, if we migrate to geothermal systems (which have constant efficiencies independent of outside temperature) the grid will be in fairly good shape.  Keep in mind that significant increases in grid power will result in billions of dollars in upgrade expenditures.  I saw that when viewed in totality, the system that really works for all of us is geothermal heat pumps.

Some additional points:

  • Cold weather grid failure has more serious implications than summer failure in New York due to frigid winter temperatures.
  • Caution should be taken when comparing New York State to places such as the UK.  Our winter temperature minimums are far below theirs.

There is much more to be learned by listening to their recorded presentations which are available at the NY-Geo youtube page.    The presenters showed some powerful graphic analysis.  If you are primarily interested in the data, the presentation is available here

As new houses are constructed, a super insulated passive solar house is the best way to go for new construction.  But many existing homes can make the conversion to geothermal even if they are not well positioned for solar panels.  Prior to viewing this presentation, I failed to see the full benefit of geothermal systems.  They may cost more initially (depending on incentives), and are somewhat more complex.  However those drawbacks are far out shadowed by the lower impact a statewide migration to geothermal heat pumps would have on the grid.  Also, if you are in the ConEd gas moratorium area (most of Westchester, but not Yorktown) the incentives are outstanding.  

Sustainable Westchester’s website provides a list of reputable, vetted contractors who can help you learn about what options would be best for you as homeowners and building owners. They can also explain the New York State rebates available to homeowners (up to $15,000) and utility rebates and help you apply for them.   I am encouraged to learn more about this excellent way to  heat (and cool)  the majority of legacy homes and buildings which includes energy storage to minimize peak demand on the grid.


Bob DeAngelis is a retired IBM engineering manager.  He lives in Yorktown with his wife,  and can often be seen hiking or biking.


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