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Electric Heat Pumps Are a ‘Double Win’ for the Environment, Says Johnson Controls CEO

Electric heat pumps could ‘change our lives forever,’ says George Oliver

Instead of burning oil or gas, heat pumps transfer and magnify the heat from water, air, earth or thermal waste sources “to not only save energy but to multiply it,” said George Oliver, CEO of Johnson Controls International (JCI), in a recent interview with Fortune magazine.

He added that electric heat pumps offer little to no greenhouse gas emissions, making them a “double win.” Doing its part, Ireland-based JCI offers district and industrial heating options for buildings, including Hybrid Energy ammonia (R717) heat pumps acquired by Johnson Controls earlier in 2023.

Oiver included electric heat pumps as one of three components that could “change our lives forever” in the next seven years. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says heat pumps could replace 80% of gas used to heat buildings around the world, making them a top priority on the EU’s agenda and leading the U.S. government to offer incentives for development and installation.

“Simply replacing oil and gas with heat pumps presents an enormous global opportunity for energy and cost savings, energy security and decarbonization,” he added, noting that if the electricity is generated from renewable sources, heating becomes emission-free.

The November 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction indicates that buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of global energy emissions. This “colossal” share of emissions by buildings means steering the sector towards net zero brings “massive” wins for climate control, said Oliver.

“With technology and financing, buildings could reach net zero by 2040 – 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement’s final deadline,” said Oliver.

Other components

The other components Oliver recommends to help buildings reach net-zero emissions are upgrading equipment and using systematic digitalization.

Upgrading to energy-efficient equipment yields double-digit energy savings, Oliver said, noting the IEA calls energy-efficiency “the first fuel” because it is fuel not used.

“Systemic digitalization multiplies the energy, emissions and cost savings from building-wide electrification,” Oliver said. It is “more possible than ever before” to save energy and emissions by monitoring, measuring and managing buildings with artificial intelligence (AI), cloud connectivity and edge computing.

The hyper-efficient equipment and systemic digitalization of Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, Norway, allow it to use only half of the energy it generates, Oliver cited, adding that the building feeds the surplus to neighborhood buildings and electric vehicles.

Oliver acknowledges that even though the technology is available and ready to scale, upfront capital costs remain challenging. A new finance program, “net zero as a service,” removes the capital barrier, he said.

In this finance model, energy savings fund the capital investment with no upfront money, and businesses are able to recoup funds above and beyond project costs. “We are working on a major school district project that will yield [US]$1 million [€911,550] a year in energy savings, above project costs, for at least 20 years,” Oliver said.

JCI operates in over 150 countries, offering HVAC products, systems and services, including AI and data-driven solutions for building performance and sustainability.

“Simply replacing oil and gas with heat pumps presents an enormous global opportunity for energy and cost savings, energy security and decarbonization,”

George Oliver, CEO Johnson Controls International

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