Heat pumps still get the job done in extreme cold

Even more evidence points to heat pumps being superior alternatives to traditional heating systems.
Heat pump outside building
Even in extremely cold climates, heat pumps outperformed three times better than traditional gas and oil installations. Deposit Photos

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, heat pumps are still considered by some to be inferior to traditional gas and fossil fuel installations. A new study published on September 11 in Joule, however, offers even more credence to adopting the eco-friendly alternative, while also debunking some of the more persistent myths surrounding heat pumps. Even in extreme cold environments, heat pumps perform as much as three times better than fossil fuel options, the latest study found.

To understand how heat pumps work, imagine the opposite of a refrigerator—instead of a fridge sucking up its ambient interior heat and pumping that outside the container via its compressor, a home’s heat pump sucks in warmth for later use. Heat pumps’ sources generally either come from ambient outside air, or underground, such as via geothermal heat. The principle is largely the same as AC units, which operate on the same principles but in reverse. Either way, a team of Oxford University researchers working alongside the independent think tank, Regulatory Assistance Project, have ample evidence that pumps are much more preferable to pollutant-heavy standards.

[Related: Energy-efficient heat pumps will be required for all new homes in Washington.]

As The Guardian explains, the study aggregated data from seven field studies across the US, Canada, China, Germany, Switzerland, the UK. After analyzing the numbers, the team found that heat pumps operated two-to-three times more efficiently than gas and oil heaters at below zero temperatures. According to the findings, this makes heat pumps perfectly suited—if not superior—for homes across the globe, including in Europe and the UK.

Speaking with Canary Media, Duncan Gibb, study co-author and a senior advisor at the Regulatory Assistance Project, argued that the study supports their belief that “there are very few—if any—technical conditions where a heat pump is not suitable based on the climate,” at least in Europe.

That’s not to say that consumers wouldn’t benefit from switching to heat pumps in the US—far from it, actually. According to the team’s field studies, even some of the nation’s coldest regions in Alaska and Maine still offered more efficient heat pump performance than fossil fuel counterparts. Extrapolate that to the country’s generally warmer areas, and heat pumps generate even more bang for their buck.

The new information presents a stark counter to recent dismissals of the technology, which are often financed by those with vested interests in the fossil fuel industry. “Even though heat pump efficiency declines during the extreme cold and back-up heating may be required, air-source heat pumps can still provide significant energy system efficiency benefits on an instantaneous and annual basis compared with alternatives,” the study’s authors argue in the paper’s introduction. And from their new data, they have the numbers to prove it.