Do you find that your energy bills are high when the winter is colder or the summer is hotter? The next time you're walking through a large store, imagine how much it costs to maintain a comfortable temperature under those high ceilings.

The commercial sector was responsible about 18% of the total energy consumed in the USA in 2022, and by far the only greater energy use for commercial buildings it is in space heating, with 32%, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.

A key way to make heating less energy intensive and reduce fossil fuel emissions? Develop technologies that can heat large buildings more efficiently, such as heat pumps. This is the focus of a accelerator program announced Wednesday by the Department of Energy.

DOE's new Heat Pump Accelerator for Commercial Buildings program is challenging manufacturers to build better rooftop heat pumps that can replace the less efficient heating and cooling technology currently installed in warehouses and stores near you. It's similar to a DOE challenge to make heat pumps work more efficiently in cold weather, which would help reduce Americans' dependence in colder areas on fossil fuels like gas and oil.

The commercial heat pump initiative “builds on more than a decade of public-private partnerships to bring cutting-edge clean technologies from the lab to the market, helping to reduce harmful carbon emissions across our economy,” the secretary said. of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, in a press release.

Why heat pumps are important

Residential heat pumps are big business and getting bigger. They outsold gas ovens last year.

The reasons are quite simple: a heat pump can save you money depending on how much you pay for electricity and gas or other heating fuels, and it can do the job of both a furnace and an air conditioner.

The technology is also quite simple. They circulate a pumped refrigerant between your home and somewhere outside — the outside air in the case of an air source heat pump, the underground heat in the case of a geothermal heat pump. It transfers heat into your home when the thermostat tells it to heat things up, and it transfers heat outside when the thermostat tells it to cool things down.

Because heat pumps generally run on electricity, they reduce fossil fuel emissions if they run on clean energy, such as on-grid renewables or rooftop solar panels. And because they're more efficient than electric furnaces or older air conditioning models, they use less energy overall.

Saving energy and money

Heating buildings uses a lot of energy and costs a lot of money.

Switching to improved, more efficient heat pump technology could cut fossil fuel emissions by half compared to natural gas-powered technology, the DOE said, and could also save American businesses $5 billion a year. on utility bills. For an individual business, where the cost of energy is much higher than for a residential homeowner, these savings can be significant.

Let's consider some recent research on how heat pumps could save people on individual home energy costs. A study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that switching to air source heat pumps would reduce household energy consumption by 31% to 47% on average and emissions by 36% to 64%.