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The new incentive for Americans to get heat pumps as a key climate solution

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

U.S. sales of heat pumps overtook sales of gas furnaces last year. But what exactly is a heat pump, and why do some call it a key climate solution? Julia Simon of NPR's Climate Desk has this report.

JULIA SIMON, BYLINE: In a backyard near Oakland, in between the wind whistling through bamboo and the meowing of a cat...

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

SIMON: ...There's another small sound - the very low whir of a heat pump. Owner James Tucker got it installed last year.

JAMES TUCKER: It goes to a fan box in the attic that blows the cool and the heat into the house.

SIMON: That's right. Heat pumps can also cool your home.

KEVIN KIRCHER: A lot of people dislike the name heat pump, right? Some people want to call them heat and cool pumps or something like that, but I think we're kind of stuck with the name.

SIMON: Kevin Kircher is a professor of engineering at Purdue University. He says you can think of a heat pump as an air conditioner that can also work backwards, using electricity to move heat into your home. Now, there's a new incentive for Americans to get heat pumps from last year's federal climate legislation. An IRS spokesperson told NPR that there are now credits that can translate to up to $2,000 for heat pumps. Kevin Hanley, coordinator at a heat pump installer in Lincoln, Neb., says the new rebates are now cutting the payback time.

KEVIN HANLEY: The rebates are such that it makes a heat pump really worth considering for all homeowners.

SIMON: The Biden administration and governments around the world see heat pumps as a key climate solution. They can replace gas furnaces in homes, and they run on electricity that's increasingly powered by renewables. Yannick Monschauer of the International Energy Agency in Paris says if governments like the U.S. and the EU meet their national climate and energy targets...

YANNICK MONSCHAUER: We see that heat pumps could bring down global CO2 emissions by half a gigaton by the end of this decade.

SIMON: That's a lot of emissions.

MONSCHAUER: So that is comparable to the annual emissions of Canada.

SIMON: While in the past heat pumps didn't work well in cold climates, Monschauer says there's been a lot of improvement.

MONSCHAUER: In fact, in the coldest parts of Europe, we also have the highest shares of heat pumps. So in Norway, for example, 60% of the households are equipped with heat pumps. So it's definitely proven that it's possible.

SIMON: In the U.S., about 14% of homes have heat pumps. Heating technicians say, this year, demand is growing.

Julia Simon, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Julia Simon
Julia Simon is the Climate Solutions reporter on NPR's Climate Desk. She covers the ways governments, businesses, scientists and everyday people are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She also works to hold corporations, and others, accountable for greenwashing.