Heating Pumps in Alaska and Beyond

The Team

DSSG Fellows: Aminat Adefolu, Silas Gifford, Katherine Grisanzio, and Brian Leung

Project Lead: Erin Trochim

Data Science Lead: Maddie Gaumer

Project Introduction

Decarbonization, a pressing global issue, necessitates the transition from carbon-intensive power to net-zero sources. The Arctic is an area of particular concern, where warming occurs at double the global rate and thermal energy, primarily fossil fuel-based, represents about 75% of energy consumption. Transitioning to greener and more energy-efficient heating methods offers an immense opportunity to reduce carbon emissions and help combat climate change.

Heat pumps are an energy-efficient heating solution. In contrast to traditional heating sources that require burning fossil fuels to generate heat, heat pumps transfer heat from the environment. Because heat pumps transfer heat instead of generating it, they are 2 to 5 times more energy efficient than traditional electric resistence heating. If the electricity used by the heat pump comes from renewable sources (like wind or solar), then the operation can be nearly carbon-free. This project focuses on air source heat pumps which are significantly less expensive than other kinds of heat pumps but face challenges producing heat as temperatures drop. This reduced efficiency at lower temperatures is a major concern for people installing heat pumps in Alaska.

This project assesses heat pump usage and potential in Alaska. We met with stakeholders with energy and utility expertise, local organizations working in the space, and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. With their input, we created estimates of current heat pump usage in Alaska. Then, we projected different heat pump adoption scenarios to quantify the opportunity gap between what Alaska current has and what is possible in terms of heat pump adoption and its impacts. At the same time, we investigate the potential for heat pumps at the borough-level across three dimensions: feasibility, economic, and carbon emissions. This analysis is essential in gauging both present and future heat pump utilization, providing critical insights for efficient decarbonization strategies.