Hybrid Heating with Smart Controls for Northern Climates

 

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Octavian Ghiricociu, P.Eng. 

Enbridge Gas Inc. 

In a cold climate, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while providing cost-effective and dependable residential heating is possible with a hybrid heating system and smart controls for existing homes. Hybrid heating systems deliver the benefits of home heating comfort, lower energy costs and a smaller carbon footprint for the consumer.  

A hybrid heating system provides the consumer with two energy sources for heating: natural gas and electricity. The equipment used for delivering that heat includes a traditional natural gas heating system (furnace or combi system) and an electric air-source heat pump (ASHP). 

Heating a home with a highly efficient heat pump sounds ideal, but in colder climates, existing homes with central ducting often presents a practical challenge. Residential ducted ASHP systems are typically inadequate for year-round heating in most areas of Canada unless extensive air distribution retrofitting and considerable energy efficiency upgrades are done, or electric resistance backup is installed. The ductwork for a gas furnace is designed to carry a certain volume of higher temperature air, while an ASHP delivers lower temperature heat to the air distribution system, delivering less heat to the home.  

The solution is to create a hybrid system that takes advantage of the higher efficient ASHP during milder weather with the natural gas furnace available for the colder winter months. Hybrid heating allows the existing ducting system to accommodate both heating systems without extensive retrofits. 

To tie both heating systems together, a smart control thermostat can analyze influencing factors on an hour-by-hour basis to determine the ideal energy source to deploy. The smart control uses intelligent cloud computing to continuously monitor and evaluate factors including outdoor temperature, current fuel costs and operational efficiency of the system. Based on this custom evaluation, the system alternates between the energy sources to obtain the most cost-effective and efficient energy use, while reducing GHG emissions without increasing total energy cost to the consumer. The sophisticated technology of the smart control provides beneficial electrification without overwhelming electricity demands and the need for expanding the electric grid.  

Hybrid heating supports Canada’s aspirational goal of transitioning to a low-carbon economy and reducing GHG emissions. Incorporating hybrid heating systems supports several key approaches to achieving this goal, including decarbonization, electrification, energy affordability and electricity grid resilience. 

As future energy costs continue to rise and fluctuate, a hybrid heating system with smart controls allows the system to continuously adjust to fluctuating prices of electricity and natural gas to maintain the lowest heating cost possible.    

The cost of purchasing and installing an ASHP is a consideration for consumer adoption and forward thinking. The most cost-effective scenario for implementing a hybrid heating system is when the consumer is replacing an air conditioning (AC) unit, as the incremental cost of an ASHP above the air conditioner can be significantly reduced through one of the many incentives available in the market today. 

For more information on hybrid heating and what current programs currently exist for this technology, please visit https://www.enbridgegas.com/sustainability/clean-heating/hybrid-heating 

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