Heat Pumps and TRCA’s Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program

Erik Janssen

The Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP) is an initiative by the Toronto Region and Conservation Authority (TRCA). Among other priorities, STEP pilots and evaluates new energy-efficient low-carbon HVAC technologies for homes and large buildings with the overall aim of promoting their adoption and reducing carbon emissions.

A typical STEP pilot involves taking new equipment (for example, a heat pump), putting in an actual building or in our lab (the Archetype Sustainable House), and then using sensors to collect data on the real-world performance. However, since detailed data monitoring can be resource-intensive, we also frequently use a simpler approach that only requires utility bill data.

The data we collect is then analyzed to determine key parameters like efficiency, capacity, energy savings, cost savings, etc. and the important factors influencing them. White paper summaries of the analyses, also including information on the owners’ experience with the system, are then made freely available on STEP’s website and the learnings are shared in different formats with multiple audiences.

Over the past 10 years, we have had a special emphasis on heat pumps and have evaluated (or are currently evaluating) many different types. This includes monobloc heat pumps for multi-unit residential buildings, central cold-climate air-source heat pumps (ASHPs), hybrid (dual fuel) systems, ductless multi-splits ASHPs, large-scale variable refrigerant flow (VRF) ASHPs, gas absorption heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, large- and small-scale geothermal systems, large-scale air-to-water heat pumps, and other technologies.

We’ve found that system owners are typically happy with their heat pumps and, in practice, many systems can perform at (or near) the high-levels of efficiency indicated by their standardized performance ratings. But we’ve also found that performance can be degraded due constraints from the system design, the building, its occupants, or the system controls. However, these issues can largely be overcome with guidance and training across multiple levels.

Overall, our assessment is that heat pumps have a bright future. Alongside building envelope improvements, heat pumps are THE technology that will allow Canada to reach its ambitious climate targets in the context of the built environment. Whether it’s an all-out replacement of conventional equipment or a hybrid system where a heat pump works in conjunction with conventional equipment, the business case for heat pumps is increasingly compelling, especially in the context of current utility rates and government programs.

Manufacturers are also constantly developing better technology and driving down the upfront costs. Those installers embracing heat pumps today can certainly have a competitive advantage in the years to come.

Erik Janssen is an Analyst, Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program (STEP) of Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).

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