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Electrification: The Trend That's Here to Stay

November 11, 2021

Daikin Applied offers a variety of solutions to meet the needs of owners and occupants

The U.S. electricity grid is getting greener, with renewable energy becoming the fastest-growing energy source in the country. When paired with nuclear, almost 40% of the power now generated comes from carbon-free sources; however, most residential, commercial, and industrial buildings still rely on natural gas and other fossil fuels to provide heat. This results in roughly 600 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents annually, or one-tenth of the total emissions in the U.S., coming from burning fossil fuels for heating purposes.

This is likely to change in the near future, as there is a growing movement to transition away from equipment that utilizes fossil fuels and instead, employ technologies such as heat pumps to meet the needs of building occupants. This trend is known as electrification, and it offers advantages for both end users and HVAC contractors. For end users, tapping into an increasingly green grid allows them to achieve ecological, as well as operational benefits, and for HVAC contractors, the trend opens up a new avenue of opportunities, as end users will look to them to help chart a course to an all-electric future.

Beneficial Trend
While numerous state and local governments are mandating electrification as a way to reduce carbon emissions, a societal change is also driving the movement. Climate change is a concern for many, who see shifting away from fossil fuels used in everything from space and water heating equipment to automobiles as the best path to slow that change. Combine these two factors along with utilities, which are also promoting electrification as a way to better manage the grid and reduce peak demand, and it is easy to see why the trend is here to stay.

The electrification movement is widespread, with a number of states aiming to achieve net zero carbon emissions in the coming years. As Philip Johnston, general manager at Daikin Applied, noted, almost 50 cities in California alone have adopted building codes to reduce their reliance on gas; and San Jose has prohibited the use of natural gas in all new building types, with limited exceptions, making it the largest city in the nation to do so.

“Seattle has also banned most uses of fossil fuels in new buildings, and similar legislation has been introduced at the state level in Washington,” he said. “Cities and states on the East Coast are moving in the same direction, with regulations being introduced or considered in Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. More progressive states will make the switch sooner, but the trend will continue to gain momentum.”

For this reason, HVAC contractors should start familiarizing themselves with the benefits associated with electrification, so they can educate their customers about the various solutions available. In addition to lower carbon emissions, these benefits can include better IAQ, higher efficiency, and lower maintenance costs.

As far as IAQ is concerned, air quality, both inside and outside of a building, can be impacted by the burning of fossil fuels. When gas- or oil-fired units are replaced with electric equipment, there is a reduction in particulate matter that could be brought into areas where people are living and working, thus improving indoor environmental quality.

Better energy efficiency can also result from using electric technologies such as heat pumps, which can operate at up to 500% efficiency (5 COP) because they move heat from one location to another, rather than simply generating heat directly. This means they are able to produce five times more heat than the electrical energy used by the equipment, which helps reduce consumption and costs. This compares to traditional heating systems that rely on fossil fuels or electric resistance heat, which operate with efficiencies in the range of 80% to 99%.

“Another factor to consider is the total lifecycle operating costs of these systems,” said Johnston. “The technology has advanced to the point where it’s driving down both the first cost and the lifecycle operating costs through improved efficiency. Heat pump capacity at lower temperatures is also improving, which means these solutions can be used in diverse climate zones.”


Useful Heat: Water-to-water heat pumps are designed to economically turn waste heat into useful heat by extracting it, amplifying the temperature, and delivering it for space heating, domestic hot water and process loads.

Electric equipment such as heat pumps may also require less maintenance, as there are no burners to inspect or clean to ensure safe operation. This is similar to the maintenance differences between electric and gas-powered cars, said Rob Landes, chiller applications engineering manager at Daikin Applied.

“When you have an automobile that's relying on fossil fuels, there are maintenance requirements such as changing the oil and air filters,” he said. “When you switch to an electric vehicle, you reduce those maintenance requirements, which can result in savings. It’s the same concept with some types of HVAC equipment.”

Finding the Right Solution
When it comes to choosing electric HVAC equipment for a building, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The equipment ultimately selected for a building will primarily depend on the goals of the building owner/operator, as well as where it is located geographically, and whether it’s new construction or retrofit.

Determining the goals of the building owner/operator is of utmost importance, which is why contractors should start any potential electrification project by asking a lot of questions. This will help contractors craft a plan that best meets the needs of their customers.

For example, if cost is a concern to the end user, then replacing all their gas-fired units with electric equipment may be a non-starter. Instead, retrofitting their existing equipment with readily available solutions can result in a reduction of carbon emissions, as well as better energy efficiency.

WSHP Small

Environmentally Friendly: Water-source heat pumps are one of the most efficient, environmentally friendly systems available for heating and cooling buildings. 


“If a building owner is not ready to go full electric, just bringing equipment up to today's building code will make a big difference,” said Matt Dodds, applied air engineering manager at Daikin Applied. “This can include high-efficiency inverter compressors, energy recovery, and sorbent ventilation technology, all of which can reduce the the building’s peak load and contribute to electrification.”

Geography also plays a role in equipment selection, as there are certain areas of the country, such as California, which have temperate climates that are well-suited for heat pumps. But there are limitations of heat pumps in other parts of the country, such as the upper Midwest and Northeast, which have very cold design temperatures.

“These areas often require hybrid systems, which will be designed to maximize electrification where possible, but they'll still have a backup fossil fuel source for the coldest days of the year,” said Dodds.

For areas that either do not have – or will no longer allow – gas hookups, an electric boiler may be required to provide backup heat. And in either case, robust controls will be needed to seamlessly integrate the heat pump with the backup heating method that is specified.
Designing a system for a brand-new building will also be different than trying to retrofit an existing building that already has coils, piping, and other infrastructure in place that is designed around certain temperature parameters. For this reason, contractors may be limited in the type of heat pump solution that they’re able to specify, which is why it is important to partner with a manufacturer that has extensive experience in this area.

“Daikin Applied has application support teams, whose sole purpose in life is to assist our sales representatives with technical and implementation questions,” said Landes. “They make sure that when somebody purchases a piece of Daikin Applied equipment, they understand the parameters and the details for installing and operating that piece of equipment.”

With electrification becoming a bigger trend across the country, Daikin Applied is focused on offering a wide range of products and solutions that can not only meet new regulations, but also satisfy the indoor climate needs of building owners and occupants.

“Electrification is one way of dealing with the effects of climate change and Daikin Applied is going to be a part of the solution,” said Johnston. “It is absolutely fundamental to our future, and we are focused on developing and delivering technologies and services that provide the basics — comfort, reliability, quality air — while protecting the environment.”

Originally appeared in The ACHR News