Facts and Myths about Heat Pumps
Buildings are the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. With the abundance of low-carbon electricity in Canada, electrifying buildings will be essential in meeting 2050 net-zero emissions targets. Heat pumps are an integral part of this solution, due to how efficiently they use electricity to heat and cool buildings while replacing fossil fuels. Additionally, heat pumps offer building owners and occupants many benefits including increased comfort, often lower utility costs and access to efficient cooling — increasingly essential due to climate change.
Canadian Heat Pump Myth Buster
There are many myths about heat pumps and how they work. Our myth buster aims to correct these misconceptions and inform policy-makers, the media, and the public on the true facts about heat pumps with scientific-based research.
What is a heat pump?
An air conditioner absorbs heat from inside your house into a refrigerant and rejects it outside. With the addition of a small component, a heat pump does the same thing in reverse to bring heat inside. By moving heat in both directions, it effectively both cools and heats.
- While fossil fuel-based heating systems can only release the energy stored in the fuel, by burning, heat pumps concentrate and move heat more energy than they consume. As a result, heat pumps can be 200-540% efficient, providing 2 to 5.4 kWh of heat for every 1 kWh of electricity they consume.
- By comparison, new natural gas boilers or furnaces are typically rated at 82 to 98% efficient in Canada. Electric boilers or baseboards are a maximum 100% efficient.
- Advanced versions work even in very cold conditions — down to around -30 °C.
Role of heat pumps in net-zero emissions
According to the IEA (2022) electrifying heating with heat pumps can reduce global GHG emissions by more than 500 million tonnes in 2030. In their The Big Switch report, the Canadian Climate Institute presented a net-zero emissions scenario where electricity as a share of household energy consumption increased from 23% in 2020 to 39% in 2035 and 96% in 2050. Electrification paired with renewable electricity can enable Canada to achieve its climate targets. As renewable electricity becomes ever cheaper, heat pumps are an excellent and highly efficient use of clean electricity.
A recent report by NRCan’s CanmetEnergy research centre modelled the GHG savings of an archetypical post-1980s two storey home across sixteen Canadian cities from switching to a CC-ASHP from electric resistance, gas or oil heating. The CC-ASHP reduced emissions by more than 95% in two-thirds of the fossil fuel replacement scenarios, and from 49–77% compared to electric resistance, as heat pumps use far less electricity to move the same amount of heat. This MURB retrofit project that installed CC-ASHPs in each apartment of a 12-storey, electric resistance-heated, 1965 apartment building in Mississauga, Ontario resulted in a 46% reduction in heating energy consumption.
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Looking for an expert on heat pumps and clean heat?
Policy Research Associate, Clean Heat
Sarah is the Policy Research Associate, Clean Heat at Efficiency Canada. Prior to joining Efficiency Canada, she worked in commercial energy management, working to decarbonize federal buildings in British Columbia and the Yukon. Sarah has a BSc. in Agricultural and Environmental Economics from McGill University, with a particular interest in the economics of climate change.
Director of Policy Research
Brendan helped launch Efficiency Canada, where he now guides research and policy advocacy efforts. He brings a proven record in energy policy entrepreneurship and thought leadership. Brendan has a PhD in Public Policy from Carleton University where his research used political economy and systems of innovation frameworks to understand the role of traditional natural resource sectors in Canada’s low-carbon transition.