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Solar + Efficient Heat Pump = A Faster ROI

Clean energy and efficiency is trending. Homes and businesses alike are opting for Energy Star appliances and green energy generation such as solar. The reason changes person to person and company to company. Some have a deep concern for the environment. Others like the idea of self-sustainability. Everyone, though, likes the idea of saving. And that is exactly what solar energy systems do. They require an initial investment, but the return on that investment can be impressive over the long-term. However, if homeowners choose to make a slightly bigger investment, making a few efficiency upgrades along with solar, their Return On Investment (ROI) can be substantially more significant. In addition to the major upgrades discussed below, there are also multiple smaller improvements a homewner can make to further increase efficiency and savings.

Central Heat Pump Upgrade

The Rocky Mountain Institute recently released a study that changes how individuals should invest in solar energy systems. The study looked at four cities across the U.S. Their goal was to analyze home electrification, both in terms of the financial costs and the carbon benefits.

The study found that in three of the four cities, if homes switched to electric heating it could help lower carbon emissions. The reason for this is that the electric grid in those cities is already clean enough. It is only regions that use heavy amounts of coal, such as Chicago, that are not seeing carbon emission reductions with electrification.

The financial costs are another story, though. Electricity from the grid can be expensive. So expensive, in fact, that gas will provide a lower lifetime cost than switching to a heat pump (with the exception of high-end mini-split type units). However, these numbers depend on where the electricity comes from. If the electricity is created from rooftop solar panels, instead of the grid, there is a substantial cost reduction and emissions reduction over the long-term.

Here is how the numbers break down: The average homeowner will save $24,900 over the course of 15 years, by switching to a high efficiency heat pump with solar ‚not to mention that carbon emissions can be reduced to zero. This means that even though a solar system and upgraded heat pump can be a $15,000 investment for a homeowner, they will still save nearly $10,000‚and this does not include the potential 30% solar tax credit that homeowners currently get. It also does not include the fact that a solar energy system can power other appliances that used to run on natural gas (i.e. cooking, water heating, etc.).

In short, an electrified home can create noticeable savings when it is done right. The return on investment associated with a solar energy system, especially when combined with energy efficient appliance upgrades, surpasses $10,000 in less than two decades, as well as increasing the value of a home.

Appliance Upgrade

Households across the U.S. use a mixture of fossil fuel and electricity to power their homes. And while the electric grid is becoming cleaner and greener, it is still the fossil fuel use that is creating significant carbon emissions. In the mid-Atlantic in particular, most utility grid power comes from coal and gas. In addition, in Pennsylvania, 51% of homes use natural gas for their heating needs. In Virginia, more than 60% of the electricity is produced with either natural gas or coal. In West Virginia, 95% of the electricity is produced by coal and natural gas. But the truth is, it does not have to.

Homes use gas to power just a handful of heating appliances. Rocky Mountain Institute found that over two-thirds of gas used in a house is for space heating‚the rest is split between water heating, clothes drying, and cooking. Water heating, space heating and clothes drying are all available with high-efficiency heat pump technology. If households made this switch, they could reduce their annual carbon emissions by 25% or more.

However, the financial benefit can be surprisingly large. Because, yes, getting off gas is great for the environment, it is also fantastic for a homeowner’s bank account. The savings start flowing in as soon as a household discontinues their gas service, as many states levy gas connections. In fact, the monthly fixed charge for a connection can be so high that discontinuing it saves a homeowner more than $300 per year‚and that is not including the amount of gas that they actually purchased.

The challenge for households, when they choose to cut off their gas connection, is finding ways complete all the jobs that gas used to power. While it is pretty straightforward to transition a home to all electric, these upgrades will require the purchase of new appliances. For many households, where old appliances are eating up both gas and electricity, this is a very natural transition as they slowly trade out old appliances for new, Energy Star versions. The following are some options for changing over from gas-based appliances.

1. Clothes Drying

The Department of Energy has found that 1% of the nation’s energy usage goes to clothes drying, which shows just how much of an impact switching from gas to electric could be. And this switch is made easier with two new technologies: the ultrasonic dryer and the heat pump dryer.

Ultrasonic dryers were co-developed through a partnership between the University of Florida, General Electric, and the Department of Energy. Instead of using heat, the dryer vibrates water out of fabric with sound waves, which produces a cool mist and allows fabric to be dried in half the amount of time it takes a traditional dryer. By looking at the market and energy usage, the Department of Energy found that over the course of a decade, if U.S. consumers adopted the ultrasonic dryer, they could save roughly $900 million in energy spending.

Another alternative is a heat pump dryer. This electric dryer option uses heat pump technology to generate the heat used for evaporating the water out of clothes and is ventless, meaning no air or heat is pushed out of the home. The dryer extracts the moisture as condensation via the internal recirculating heat pump technology.

2. Cooking

When it comes to cooking, electricity is a different story. Many consumers will hesitate about switching from gas to electric cooking‚ gas just provides more control. And because of this desire to use gas for cooking, they will be reluctant to disconnect their gas. This can then have a snowball effect‚ if they are still paying for a gas connection, is it really worth it for them to convert their water and space heating systems to electric?

The good news is that there is a good alternative to gas cooking‚ electric induction cooking. These stoves heat food by creating an electric field with an electric coil. The electric field that these stoves create is unique because it does not heat the actual cooktop and the air around it‚it only directly heats the cookware via high frequency electromagnetism. In other words, little energy is wasted, making it about 70% more efficient than both conventional electric and gas stoves. Additionally, because it delivers heat more quickly and it offers the user more control, it provides a cooking experience that is very much like a gas stove.

In the past, reducing carbon emissions was an expensive feat‚dropping it down to zero was simply an impossibility. Now, however, with the advent of new appliances and the affordability of green energy, this goal is not only possible‚it is also lucrative.

3. Water Heating

Heat pump water heaters are one of the best improvements in water heating in a long time. Rather than powering a heating element to heat the water the units use a small heat pump to do so in the same way that a central HVAC heat pump uses to heat your home. In fact, where an ordinary electric water heater can use 5000 watts of power during operation, a heat pump water heater can use less than 500 watts for the same job!

From, “Heat pump water heaters use electricity to move heat from one place to another instead of generating heat directly. Therefore, they can be two to three times more energy efficient than conventional electric resistance water heaters. To move the heat, heat pumps work like a refrigerator in reverse.”

While a quality electric or gas water heater starts around $500, a heat pump water heater runs around $1300. This price difference can be recuperated in just a few years, but if moving from a gas water heater to a heat pump water heater powered by the sun, the realization of ROI is very short.

Getting Started

Mountain View Solar is your local West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania solar and energy efficiency contractor. Our primary products include solar energy systems and battery backup for critical loads. In addition, our trained team of professionals can discuss efficiency upgrades that in combination with solar can not only reduce your carbon footprint, but substantially increase the overall ROI for your solar energy system. We can even recommend trusted contractors for your appliance upgrades.

mtvSolar has always been a leader in green energy initiatives. We started our journey as premier builders of energy efficient homes before making the shift into renewable power generation. We take energy efficiency and green energy initiatives very seriously and will help maximize the impact of your new solar installation. Contact us today for a free, zero-pressure consultation customized for your home. Our employees frequently test technology before we recommend it. One of our employees in Western Maryland has an mtvSolar ground mount array, heat pump water heater, plug-in induction burner, and high efficiency central heat pump that we can arrange for you to see in person.

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