In this Empire file photo, a cruise ship passenger photographs a ship in Juneau’s downtown harbor on August 29, 2017. (Juneau Empire File)

In this Empire file photo, a cruise ship passenger photographs a ship in Juneau’s downtown harbor on August 29, 2017. (Juneau Empire File)

Local nonprofit wants Juneau to pump up

… with air source heat pumps

A local nonprofit wants you to get a heat pump. Or at least help someone else get one.

Renewable Juneau is a local advocacy group for clean energy in the capital city and they’re working to get people to lower their carbon footprint. One of the ways they’re trying to do that is by getting people to heat their homes with air source heat pumps.

“Heat pumps are the latest and greatest space heating technology,” said Andy Romanoff, board member of Renewable Juneau. “They’re the least expensive option for the average homeowner,” in terms of a monthly cost. Romanoff said that using a heat pump, which runs on electricity, is about half the cost of heating your home using diesel fuel.

Heat pumps work like a refrigerator, only in reverse. They take hot air from outside and move it inside using a system of coils and refrigerant. According to the Department of Energy’s website, “liquid refrigerant in the outside coils extracts heat from the air and evaporates into a gas. The indoor coils release heat from the refrigerant as it condenses back into a liquid.”

The technology has been around for a while, but it wasn’t until recently they could work in colder temperatures. Mitsubishi, which manufactures heat pumps for both commercial and residential, has an air source heat pump that can operate in temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.

But heat pumps, like many new technologies, can be expensive. Romanoff said his own pump cost about $4000.

“You have to have money up front,” he said. “We’re missing out on low-income families.”

So in order to help those families get heat pumps, Renewable Juneau set up the Juneau Carbon Offset Fund.

Carbon Offsetting is the process of creating carbon reductions in one place if reductions can’t be made in another. So if you have to fly somewhere you can pay for renewable energy somewhere else, thereby reducing your overall carbon footprint.

“We advocate the individual or the family do whatever they can,” Romanoff said, “but you reach a point where you can’t do anything more. People are doing something they can’t avoid so (they) pay to offset somewhere else.”

In this case, by donating money to help families install heat pumps in their homes.

“The average Juneau home uses 780 gallons of diesel a year. One heat pump will replace 17,000 pounds of carbon,” Romanoff said.

Heat pumps use electricity, which has to be generated somewhere. In Juneau, electricity comes mainly from hydroelectric power.

Because of dry conditions over the past few years, Alaska Electric Light & Power haven’t been able to generate as much electricity as needed by all its customers using hydro-power alone.

But while a switch to heat pumps could potentially put a strain on AEL&P’s system, that’s not something the company is too worried about.

“We are very much in favor in the efficient use of electricity and heat pumps are very much a part of that,” said Alec Mesdag, director of energy service for AEL&P. The important thing was, “approaching it in a careful way that we don’t create rate shocks,” Mesdag said.

Mesdag said that with a very deliberate approach and careful implementation, a switch to mostly electric heat generation would be manageable.

In some cases, switching to an air source heat pump will even free up some energy usage, Mesdag said.

“A lot of people have electric baseboards,” he said. With electric baseboards, “for every one kilowatt-hour of electricity, you get about one kilowatt-hour of heat.” But with air pumps you could get somewhere between two-four kilowatt-hours of heat, depending on outside temperatures.

“That’s a situation where someone might be reducing their energy consumption,” Mesdag said.

Renewable Juneau’s carbon offset fund website has a carbon footprint calculator where people can get see about how much carbon they’re using. The calculator will then give a dollar amount as a suggested donation.

A trip from Europe to Juneau for example, comes with a suggested donation of $74. Renewable Juneau hopes to work with local tourism businesses next summer to make their customers aware of the program.

“We hope to be working with the cruise lines,” Romanoff said. “Cruise lines want to see their vendors are working with carbon offsets. We want to make a lot of good connections. We have big plans.”


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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