My vacation to Costa Rica last week was a brilliant reminder of two things. One, Costa Rica is very hot, even in February. And two, air source heat pumps are incredibly effective at what they’re designed to do. Truly, the difference between being indoors versus outdoors during the Costa Rican dry season was night and day. The Airbnb my partner and I rented in Tamarindo, a little beach town on the northwestern coast, was equipped with two state-of-the-art heat pump units that kept us comfortable all hours of the day. Since my line of work involves transforming the market to accelerate heat pump adoption throughout the Northeast, it was eye opening to experience the true comfort-control power of a heat pump in a hot environment like Central America.
Now that I’m back in Massachusetts, I wonder how heat pumps can become as popular as they are in Costa Rica and many other parts of the world. Heat pumps have proven themselves to be efficient coolers of residential spaces, even more so than window AC units and central air. They were commonplace in Costa Rica. And everywhere they were, the output of cooling capacity was very consistent and true to the temperature displayed on the unit and handheld remote. There was no rushing sound of air through a ducting system, because there were no ducts to begin with. With all these benefits I saw and experienced during my stay, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed when I considered how this technology is being underutilized here at home.
The caveat for heat pumps in the Northeast is the need for them to perform efficiently in cold climates. Warm environments simply don’t need to worry about heating capacity, but in the Northeast and Canada where temperatures can drop below 0°F, a heat pump must also be able to reliably heat the space in which it was installed. The magnificent opportunity for heat pumps in colder regions is that recent advancements in the technology have made them effective heating and cooling machines. Heat pumps are now a practical option for many homes in areas that fluctuate in temperature throughout the year.
Not all heat pumps are effective at heating and cooling in cold climates, however, and it’s important to distinguish which ones are capable of providing consistent comfort. This is precisely why NEEP launched a program in 2015 to differentiate air source heat pumps capable of high performance in cold climates. This need to distinguish cold-climate heat pumps led NEEP to design and implement a specification (now on V3.0), as well as a list of variable capacity heat pumps that meet the performance requirements within the spec. This list became known as NEEP’s Cold-Climate Heat Pump Product List, and is currently referenced by 14 programs in the Northeast and Canada that provide incentives for heat pump adoption.
With 5,350 heat pumps from 65 leading brands now listed on the NEEP list website, it has become a hub for identifying top-of-the-line cold-climate systems. NEEP’s objective is to capture and list every variable capacity heat pump capable of high performance in cold climates, and we are making significant progress in achieving that goal. This database of systems will be a staple of NEEP’s long-term market transformation efforts, as well as regional goals to decarbonize the way we heat and cool our homes and buildings.
While the Northeast United States is very different from Costa Rica, our region has just as much potential to take advantage of high performance air source heat pumps. NEEP will continue to make progress supporting adoption of this technology, and as part of the effort I look forward to the day they become as mainstream as they are in Tamarindo.