California will ban the sale of natural gas heaters by 2030. This technology can replace them

In another big step toward California’s zero-emissions goals, state air regulators have voted to approve a plan to ban the sale of commercial and residential natural gas heaters by 2030 — a decision that could soon be electric as an alternative heating technology. Widespread in the state.

The joint resolution by the California Air Resources Board is part of a larger state plan to reduce ozone emissions from a variety of industries, including commercial and residential buildings, transportation and consumer products.

It comes shortly after signing climate bills that require the state to become carbon-neutral by 2045 and produce 90% of its electricity from clean sources by 2035, as the state struggles with change. A climate that is creating extreme weather and fueling the state’s increasingly destructive wildfires.

Regulators say the key to moving away from natural gas is heat pump technology, which is already widely used in Europe but is less common in the US.

Lafayette City Councilman Wei-Tye Kwok said they installed a heat pump system in 2019 and the conversion process was faster than he expected.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle 2019

Heat pumps that rely only on electricity work by moving heat. Although there are different types, including geothermal, the most common are air source heat pumps, used to cool the air or heat your home – when it’s cold outside, heat pumps take heat energy from outside and move it into your home. When it is hot, they draw fresh air from the inside and move the heat.

They typically come with an outdoor unit and an indoor unit, along with a refrigeration cycle. It absorbs or releases heat, which is how heat energy is transferred. The temperature is controlled by a thermostat.

According to the California Air Resources Board, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for about 5% of statewide emissions due to natural gas use, and 90% of building-related natural gas needs come from space and water heating.

Currently, 11% of homes in the US use heat pumps, according to a study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan. Another study by the San Francisco-based Natural Resources Defense Council found that switching from natural gas to electricity for space heating would reduce California household annual emissions by 46% to 54%.

Although heat pumps these days can work in all types of climates, they are especially suitable for mild climates like the Bay Area, which many studies have shown is rare. Heat pumps have a more difficult time extracting heat from the air at very low temperatures, although experts say the technology is improving.

The technology is gaining popularity. State and local incentives are driving more people to the system, and demand is higher than ever, said Brian Crossen, sales manager for Bell Bros., an HVAC and plumbing company in Sacramento and the East Bay.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in our heat pump business this past year,” he says — including himself.

“If you had asked me personally to switch my gas system to electric two or three years ago, I wouldn’t have said anything, but I replaced my system three months ago,” he said. “I converted to a heat pump, and a big part of that is now the confidence in the reliability of these systems and how many discounts and incentives I can get.”

The Inflation Relief Act, signed into law by President Biden this year, provides rebates for heat pumps. It offers a 30% tax credit of up to $2,000 to anyone who installs a heat pump, as well as an income tax credit of up to $8,000. California offers a $3,000 Rebella grant for heat pump installation in single-family homes, with more available depending on where you live. In addition, local governments and utilities often offer their own incentives.

Conversion doesn’t always have to be a big project, Crosson explains. For homes that already have gas heating and air conditioning systems and want to change, a heat pump system can typically go in the same place — “it can be a like-for-like change,” he said.

In the year For Lafayette City Councilman Wei-Thai Kwok, who installed a heat pump system in 2019, the conversion process was faster than he expected.

Lafayette City Councilman Wei-Thai Kwok shows off the electric hot water tank at his home, which has stopped using natural gas.

Lafayette City Councilman Wei-Thai Kwok shows off the electric hot water tank at his home, which has stopped using natural gas.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The Chronicle 2019

The overall project, explained in a March presentation on heat pumps with the local government coalition Bay Area Regional Energy Network, includes not only electrifying the heating and air conditioning system, but also the furnace, furnace and water heater. It took 45 days. This was surprising because he thought it would be “forever and complicated.”

But there are still challenges – for one, the upfront cost can be very high. For example, Kwok’s heat pump cost him $27,000. According to Crossan, when the heat pump system itself is installed from scratch with a gas-electric system, people may be reluctant to change and pay for an expensive new system unless their gas heater is at the end. His life.

New incentives and discounts are helping to significantly reduce that upfront cost, Crosson and Kwok noted.

Also, once installed, a heat pump can be more expensive than a traditional system, depending on local utility rates, according to Chris Silberman, service manager with Bell Bros. Heat pumps are more energy efficient—which means you get. More heat for your dollar – The electricity itself can be more expensive to power the furnace than natural gas, he said.

Still, an air source heat pump can deliver up to three times more heat than an electric heat pump, according to the US Department of Energy. You can reduce energy consumption by 50%.

Installation poses another challenge: Kwok and another Bay Area homeowner, Sarah Spengeman, who serves as the vice director of communications for San Rafael Climate Think Tank Energy Innovation, each said during the forum that finding a contractor to install a heat pump was more difficult. More than you expected. Many are inexperienced with the technology or think the equipment is not as good as a standard gas electric system.

According to a market report prepared for the California Public Utilities Commission this year, awareness of heat pumps among new construction trades is growing, but still low – about 5% of California architects are familiar with heat pumps.

But Kwok and Spengeman both said the benefits of the systems outweighed any negatives — especially since they both wanted a greener way to heat and cool their homes.

When Kwok maintains a steady level of heating and cooling in the house, the system is quiet, and Spengeman says it works well for her family even on the hottest and coldest days.

“It feels like central heating,” she said. “We’ve been completely comfortable in the last two years.”

Silberman pointed out another advantage: heat pump systems are safer than furnaces, because they never use gas, which means that gas does not have the potential to enter the house.

If you’re looking to install a heat pump, Crossen and Silberman say it’s important to make sure you’re maximizing the benefits and taking advantage of all the discounts available. The best way to do this is to get professional help, he said.

“Every home is unique and different, so it’s best to have a reputable contractor come out and evaluate it,” says Crosson.

Daniel Echeverria is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @Daniel Ichev

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