Hot off the press, NEEP has just released a report entitled “The Smart Energy Home: Driving Residential Building Decarbonization”.  This report builds on NEEP’s multi-year effort in the smart energy homes space, and brings the role of controls more clearly into focus, outlining their importance for decarbonizing residential properties. NEEP’s Claire Miziolek led the report development which includes contributions from more than 30 representatives from other organizations and private industry.

The report characterizes the value of home energy management systems as:

“Home energy management systems (HEMS) and smart energy home technologies are key components to advancing regional residential building decarbonization. In addition to making loads in a home flexible, smart energy homes can both enable and help to grow the residential distributed energy resource (DER) market. Since consumers are adopting smart home technology at rates far faster than other low-carbon solutions, smart energy homes can also ease the shift towards strategic electrification.”

The report contains useful background on HEMS impacts, trends and current polices, and moves to an in-depth set of recommendations for strategies and next steps. While targeted to the Northeast, most of the work is directly usable in other areas of the country.

A summary of how HEMS ties into building decarbonization is described in Figure 1.

How HEMS Meets the Objectives of a Decarbonized Future

Figure 1: How HEMS Meets the Objectives of a Decarbonized Future

Innovations in controls and smart technologies continue at a rapid fire pace with new products popping up on what seems to be a daily basis. Most of the home related products are about convenience, adding amenities, safety/security, and simplifying lifestyle. Building the connection between the home’s loads and the grid? Decreasing total residential energy use? Enabling load shifting across as many end uses as possible? I am not sure if these are lifestyle choices, but they sure are smart.

Planning Support for Building Decarbonization in California

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) commissioned a report by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. to look at the technologies, markets and policies that could help California decarbonize the buildings sector. The October 2018 report, “Decarbonization of Heating Energy Use in California Buildings: Technology, Markets, Impacts, and Policy Solutions”, is the first in-depth analysis of the economic and grid impacts of reducing emissions through building decarbonization strategies in California. Dr. Asa Hopkins led the Synapse team.

The policy and impact provisions are specific to California’s climate, building stock, and energy and environmental policies. However, the technologies and markets related aspects of the report provide very useful (that is, not too technical) descriptions of the variety of heat pump options available and recommendations for how to approach various markets. For example, the report describes what ductless heat pumps are as well as where they are likely to prove most useful in a decarbonization plan. The report is a great starting point to help shape California’s planning as well as providing a useful primer on decarbonization technologies and markets across the U.S.

Among the conclusions of the economic analysis is that in California:

“Upfront costs of clean electric heating are generally lower than conventional gas alternatives in new construction, by $1,500 or more in our model, as higher heat pump equipment costs are more than offset by avoiding the cost of plumbing the building for gas and connecting it to the gas main in the street, as well as by using a single heat pump for heating and cooling instead of a separate furnace and air conditioner. Operational energy costs vary by rate design, climate zone, and by how much solar is on the building. ….From a lifecycle cost perspective, clean heating in new buildings can range between savings of more than $8,400 to a small net cost of under $400.”

For existing buildings, properties that already have gas furnaces and central air conditioning can also benefit:

“In existing buildings, upfront costs of clean heating retrofits are generally higher and they vary more from home to home. For example, from $1,500 in lower costs when replacing both the furnace and air conditioner with a heat pump along with minimal electric upgrades, to $900 in higher costs when replacing only the furnace. Electrical wiring, panel and/or service upgrade may be required in some homes, whether for heat pumps, electrical vehicle chargers, or just safety upgrades. When required, electrical upgrades could range from another few hundred dollars for wiring only to several thousand for a panel and/or service upgrade.”

Pocketbook issues, especially first costs, can be major barriers to consumer adoption. The Synapse analysis indicates that there are a number of circumstances where first costs are lower for clean heating.  The implication is that for warmer climates where central air conditioning is common, consumer adoption of low carbon heating options may move more rapidly, potentially reducing costs of advanced heat pump technology for other applications.

This blog is part of Building Decarb Central, a series of blogs and other resources aimed at providing a constant flow of information on building decarbonization. Be sure to check out our web portal for more stories, resources, and information.

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