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Report Identifies Opportunities for Electric Space Heating Conversions in Commercial Buildings

image credit: Larimer Square in downtown Denver. Credit: David Wagman
DW Keefer's picture
Journalist, Independent Journalist and Analyst

DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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  • Nov 17, 2020

A report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says that "significant potential" exists to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by electrifying existing commercial building space heating.

The electrification opportunities could trim total commercial-sector site energy use by about 37% and greenhouse gas emissions by about 44%.

The ACEEE report looked at packaged systems, furnaces, boilers and space heaters. It found that about more than one-quarter of commercial floor space that is currently heated with fossil fuel systems can be electrified with a simple payback of less than 10 years and without any rebates or carbon pricing.

Financial incentives, carbon pricing and/or additional efficiency improvements to reduce building loads could improve payback and also would improve the economics of space-heating electrification for additional buildings.

The report said that buildings with the best paybacks are more likely to be located in the southern United States and the Pacific region, where space-heating needs are modest. Favorable paybacks are also projected in building types across the United States that have medium-to-high operating hours, such as health care, food, retail and offices.

The report said that another opportunity exists to convert centralized boiler/chiller systems to large chiller/heat pump systems. It found that the economics of these kinds of conversions are site specific. For example, finding adequate exterior space to locate outdoor units can be a challenge for high-rise buildings.

As a result, electrification of commercial space heating is likely to proceed slowly without policy support, the report said. It listed such support as including programs to promote energy efficiency, electrification incentives, pricing greenhouse gas emissions, mandatory building performance standards, research and development to reduce electrification costs, and encouraging or requiring bids for a heat pump when an existing heating system needs to be replaced.

The report, “Electrifying Space Heating in Existing Commercial Buildings: Opportunities and Challenges,” is available here.


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