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What are heat pumps and how do they work?

Are you looking for alternative ways to heat your home? Heating fuel, propane and electric baseboard heating aren't the most efficient methods. Switching to heat pumps could save you a lot of money.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), heat pumps work similarly to refrigerators; they move heat from a cool space to a warm space, in this case inside your home. The technology can generate heat in temperatures as low as 0 degrees. They also transfer heat out of your home in summer.

Different types of heat pumps

There are three typical styles of heat pumps on the market today.

  • Air-source heat pump. These pumps transfer air between your house and the outdoors. According to the DOE, these systems could reduce your electricity use for heating 65% compared to baseboard heaters.
  • Mini-split heat pump. The mini-split heat pump transfers heat using a refrigerant from an outdoor condenser unit to another unit inside your home. You can install this on your wall or in the ceiling and use existing duct work or refrigeration lines. Mini-splits are good options for rooms without existing ductwork.
  • Geothermal heat pump. These systems cost more to install but less to operate as they rely on constant ground temperatures rather than surrounding air. They can reduce energy use by up to 80%, but the effectiveness is dependent on the size of your lot, the subsoil and other environmental factors.

As of 2022, heat pumps accounted for 10% of the world’s heating. They saw an 11% growth in sales, including high adoption in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland.

In the U.S., Maine residents used heat pumps to stay warm during the February 2023 cold spell when wind chills dropped to 60 degrees below zero. However, there are concerns that heat pumps, like all heating systems, lose efficiency in extreme weather conditions.

Other factors to consider

When demand for electricity rises on extremely cold or hot days, utilities ramp up production to have the energy available for customers. Since heat pumps use less electricity than other heating systems such as electric baseboard heat, they can lessen the strain on the grid and allow for renewable energy to power more homes and businesses.

Now that you know what each heat pump does, it’s up to you to determine if these are ideal in your situation. The costs and benefits of installing and operating these systems are customer-dependent; there’s no singular answer for the most cost-effective solution for all customers.

Alliant Energy offers cash savings when you purchase a qualified heat pump. To learn more about available savings, Iowa customers can go to our Instant Discounts webpage and Wisconsin customers can check out Focus on Energy.

Chris is a Communications Partner specializing in Alliant Energy’s renewable investments. Coming from a journalism background, he’s excited to tell the story of Alliant Energy’s Clean Energy Blueprint and other renewable trends in new and exciting ways.

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