Solar panels and wind turbines get all the attention, but one underrated device is helping to reduce emissions greatly: the heat pump. Instead of generating heat by burning natural gas, as a boiler does, an electric heat pump extracts heat from the outside air and transfers it indoors. In summer, the device reverses and pumps interior heat to cool the building.
Heat pump sales are booming around the world; About 4 million were installed in the U.S. in 2021, up from 1.7 million in 2012. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes to boost those numbers even further, with an announcement today of $169 million in federal funding for the manufacture of domestic heat pumps. Funded by the Inflation Reduction Act—the huge climate bill Passed last year that also provides tax credits for heat pumps: awards will go to nine projects in 13 states, creating 1,700 jobs.
“Bringing more American-made electric heat pumps to market will help families and businesses save money with efficient heating and cooling technology,” U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm wrote in a Department of Energy statement. provided to WIRED. “These investments will create thousands of high-quality, well-paying manufacturing jobs and strengthen America’s energy supply chain.”
The Biden administration is making the decision by invoking the Defense Production Act, a provision that allows the president to stimulate the manufacture of materials necessary for national defense. In this case, according to a press release, the administration is “using emergency authority due to climate change.” The Biden administration has previously used the DPA to accelerate production of integrated circuits and Vaccines for COVID-19. Before that, the Trump administration invoked it to boost production of personal protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic.
“The president is using his wartime emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to boost American manufacturing of heat pumps for a multitude of reasons,” says Ali Zaidi, assistant to the president and national climate adviser. The first is to improve energy security by reducing dependence on international supply chains, such as for components, he says. And because heat pumps are electric, they are not subject to fluctuations in fossil fuel prices. “This is our opportunity to make our families more resilient in the face of global energy volatility,” adds Zaidi. “The way to unlock it is to bring home the supply chains for technologies like heat pumps.”
The nine DOE projects, at 15 sites, cover domestic production of both the pumps and their individual components. Thus, in Three Rivers, Michigan, Armstrong International will increase its industrial heat pump manufacturing capacity, while in Detroit, Treau (also known as Gradient) will manufacture smaller units for homes. The money will also go toward producing the compressors used in the devices, as well as refrigerants, in states including Missouri, Louisiana and Ohio.