Electrification is expected to have a huge impact on the transportation and HVAC industries in the very near future. So, it’s probably a good idea to learn more about it and look for ways to benefit from it.
What is Electrification? Essentially it means fully or partially switching from technologies that directly use fossil fuel to those that use electricity. The industries most impacted by this are the electric vehicle market, indoor heating, and water heating.
In the transportation industry, there are currently more than one million electric vehicles (EVs) on the road today. According to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), there will be a 700% increase (seven million EVs) by 2025. That’s just five years from now! This includes both passenger vehicles as well as commercial/industrial transportation.
Imagine that kind of increase for the HVAC industry? Over the past year, we’ve seen a big push for Electrification by utilities and Public Utility Commissions (PUCs) in numerous states. And it’s only going to intensify over the months and years ahead.
Good or Bad?
Will Electrification be good or bad for the HVAC industry? The short answer is, it depends. If it’s done in a practical, thoughtful way, as opposed to a sweeping “single-solution” approach to energy efficiency, it could be very good for our industry. It can present significant opportunities for early retirement of older, inefficient furnaces and air conditioners, as well as improvements in both new and existing HVAC systems.
One of the challenges to Electrification, both in new construction and in existing homes, is the air distribution system. If corners are cut and the same poorly designed ductwork and inferior components including fittings, grilles, and registers are installed, all-electric HVAC systems will perform poorly, particularly in heating mode.
Many of us remember heat pump conversions of the eighties and early nineties when customers complained about cold and drafty homes. This was caused by both low equipment discharge temperatures compared to gas furnaces, and poor air distribution systems blowing cold drafty air onto building occupants.
Equipment manufacturers have stepped up and raised Delta Ts significantly on heat pumps. Unfortunately, air distribution design and installation, both in residential and light commercial buildings is still significantly lagging compared to equipment improvements.
The Biggest Hurdles
In new construction, much of this lag is caused by the typical low-bid mentality that is still pervasive with builders and HVAC contractors.
Duct systems in new homes, particularly in the south, still consist of octopus-like flex duct systems with impossibly long runs, inferior splitter boxes, and too many restrictive bends and elbows. Coupled with cheap registers and grilles, an insufficient number of returns, and poor design and installation, we have the perfect storm for poorly performing all-electric HVAC systems.
But it’s not just new construction. Most of the existing home stock currently operates at 57% of heating and cooling capacity delivered into a home or building. Not only does this negate most of the equipment efficiency gains, but it also impacts comfort – especially in heating mode.
As utilities continue to roll out electrification programs, they would be wise to focus on this insidious problem with delivered efficiency, and build their incentive and training programs around measured, delivered capacity, not just the equipment’s efficiency ratings.
With thoughtful attention by those driving electrification to look beyond SEER and HSPFs, to total system performance, there’s great potential for responsibly shifting energy use.
While Electrification got a big black eye 30-plus years ago, we now have better technology, tools, and verification methods to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Now it’s up to us to get it right!