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A (true) narrative about heat pumps, backup heat sources, and considerations when going all electric

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This post is mainly for people like @ethicalpaul and @Hot_water_fan who like to debate the merits of heat pumps on this forum, but also for the proponent of pragmatic truth, @Jamie Hall .

I am a part time farmer and tinkerer on all things including HVAC systems, but for my day job I have a vice president level position in the electric power generation industry. My team touches double digit percentages of the installed capacity in multiple global portfolios where we provide control systems integration and operations support to these clients. I have stayed hands on and maintained my certification in multiple markets as a bulk power generation resource operator occasionally personally help out with technical problems when they're interesting or critical, which is part of why I was so aware of what happened as it happened.

I wrote the attached piece after we narrowly averted a problematic situation in the eastern US right before Christmas. It's rather long and technical but is 100% nonfiction and very important for people considering retrofitting heat pumps to understand. Enjoy!
ratioMad Dog_2Solid_Fuel_Man

Comments

  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,442
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    Thank you for all that, lad. You may have left Vermont for the Shenandoah, but you're still thinking like a Yankee farmer!
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Mad Dog_2Solid_Fuel_Man
  • fentonc
    fentonc Member Posts: 240
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    That was a fascinating read. That event was the first time I've ever experienced ConEd sending out a message asking customers to reduce gas usage as much as possible (we have a gas boiler), or they might not be able to maintain pressure. My boiler used 2.78 therms on the 23rd, 7.12 therms on the 24th (setting my highest recorded efficiency of 69% with 53 HDD averaged for the 24hour period) and back down to 4.68 therms on the 25th. I rewired my boiler this fall to be able to operate from a battery or generator if the power goes out, but i'm out of luck if the gas network fails.
    Mad Dog_2
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,626
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    My brother works at a power plant and has one short statement. "The grid can't handle it"
    Mad Dog_2Solid_Fuel_Man
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,884
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    Great write up! I’m pragmatic - if the grid needs fossil backup instead of resistance I’m all for it - they just need to tell me.  99% of the time, I’ll be using electricity. 
  • vtfarmer
    vtfarmer Member Posts: 101
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    Great write up! I’m pragmatic - if the grid needs fossil backup instead of resistance I’m all for it - they just need to tell me.  99% of the time, I’ll be using electricity. 

    @Hot_water_fan here I am, telling you. This is part of why I introduced my role at the start of the thread; no large utility company in the US is going to come out and say we're totally and utterly boned unless we dramatically change course immediately, but that is in fact the case and more people need to realize it.

    The closest public plea for sanity I can point you to is PJM's recent publication regarding resource adequacy: https://insidelines.pjm.com/pjm-details-resource-retirements-replacements-and-risks/

    ISO New England put one out in 2018 that was similar, but no one seems to have done anything about it.
    Mad Dog_2
  • vtfarmer
    vtfarmer Member Posts: 101
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    PS - Here's the ISO-NE one from 2018: https://www.iso-ne.com/static-assets/documents/2018/01/20180117_operational_fuel-security_analysis.pdf

    Of particular interest is figure 5, which shows how one potential scenario could lead to six (6) days of involuntary load shedding in February:


    ttekushan_3
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,110
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    @- .  "They"  (yes you!) want to paint us as Neanderthals who want polluted drinking water & air.. Brownfields,  pave over the forests..We want to chew on pig lead like candy, breathe Asbestos-laden air, Oversize our boilers, shun green technologies like Solar PV and Thermal.   Whom do you think PAYS for all the Conservation programs??  ...We outdoorsman with our licensing fees.. We care JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO...ITS NOT YOUR MONOPOLY..WE ARE ON BOARD TOO! But we are logistical, not hysterical, and pragmatic.  The Holy Roman Empire was not built in a day....We're on this...we got this 👍.   Work with us instead of ad hominim jibes and pokes.. We are all Concerned Americans..  The debate floor is open and it can't be ONE-SIDED...JUST HERE TO HELP....Mad Dog 
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,884
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    @vtfarmer thanks, I just read it. We’ve added capacity in the past and there are cooling dominated southern states with extremely high peaks. What’s the difference here? It seems like some places have figured it out and we’ll have decades to figure out the heat pump part of the equation. I’m not saying it’s not challenging or that if happened tomorrow it wouldn’t be a problem - but it won’t happen tomorrow. At the end of the day, a utility should like selling electricity yes? 
    ethicalpaul
  • Hot_water_fan
    Hot_water_fan Member Posts: 1,884
    edited March 2023
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    @- .  "They"  (yes you!) want to paint us as Neanderthals who want polluted drinking water & air.. Brownfields,  pave over the forests..We want to chew on pig lead like candy, breathe Asbestos-laden air, Oversize our boilers, shun green technologies like Solar PV and Thermal.   Whom do you think PAYS for all the Conservation programs??  ...We outdoorsman with our licensing fees.. We care JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO...ITS NOT YOUR MONOPOLY..WE ARE ON BOARD TOO! But we are logistical, not hysterical, and pragmatic.  The Holy Roman Empire was not built in a day....We're on this...we got this 👍.   Work with us instead of ad hominim jibes and pokes.. We are all Concerned Americans..  The debate floor is open and it can't be ONE-SIDED...JUST HERE TO HELP....Mad Dog 
    ? Was this supposed to be addressed to me? If so, I think the easiest path is heat pump when AC breaks, keep the furnace/boiler. How’s that for pragmatic?
    As for the rest, I’m not sure what to say. 
    Mad Dog_2
  • ethicalpaul
    ethicalpaul Member Posts: 5,735
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    Thanks for that, I read it. But what’s the takeaway?

    my takeaway is: heat pumps will continue to be improved to work in low temps (I prefer ground source myself) and the grid will continue to be improved.

    Did anything actually fail in your story?
    NJ Steam Homeowner. See my sight glass boiler videos: https://bit.ly/3sZW1el
    GGross
  • Robert_25
    Robert_25 Member Posts: 530
    edited March 2023
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    Thank you for sharing. We had a similar weather situation in Northern NY on 2/3 and 2/4/23. I did not hear about any electric service interruptions, but the load had to be incredible as many people turned to space heaters to supplement their main heating system.
    Mad Dog_2
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,442
    edited March 2023
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    I guess a couple of more comments, although I'm getting tired of this.

    Thought again. I'd written a couple of more comments, but realised it's no use. And edited thm out.
    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    Mad Dog_2
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,784
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    My brother works at a power plant and has one short statement. "The grid can't handle it"
    What does your brother do at the power plant?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • vtfarmer
    vtfarmer Member Posts: 101
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    Thanks for that, I read it. But what’s the takeaway?

    my takeaway is: heat pumps will continue to be improved to work in low temps (I prefer ground source myself) and the grid will continue to be improved.

    Did anything actually fail in your story?

    The takeaway is that we very narrowly avoided rolling blackouts from Maine to Virginia, and actually had them from North Carolina south and west. There is NOT new generating capacity being built more quickly than it's being retired and the projections are that capacity will likely NOT be adequate to meet demand in the next few years if nothing changes.

    Use a heat pump if you like (I do), but be prepared to not be able to use it (and likely not have power at all) when the weather gets really cold.

    That's my takeaway.
    ethicalpaulMad Dog_2
  • ChrisJ
    ChrisJ Member Posts: 15,784
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    vtfarmer said:
    Thanks for that, I read it. But what’s the takeaway?

    my takeaway is: heat pumps will continue to be improved to work in low temps (I prefer ground source myself) and the grid will continue to be improved.

    Did anything actually fail in your story?
    The takeaway is that we very narrowly avoided rolling blackouts from Maine to Virginia, and actually had them from North Carolina south and west. There is NOT new generating capacity being built more quickly than it's being retired and the projections are that capacity will likely NOT be adequate to meet demand in the next few years if nothing changes. Use a heat pump if you like (I do), but be prepared to not be able to use it (and likely not have power at all) when the weather gets really cold. That's my takeaway.
    So you're saying they cannot build more generating capacity fast enough or just choose not to?
    Single pipe quasi-vapor system. Typical operating pressure 0.14 - 0.43 oz. EcoSteam ES-20 Advanced Control for Residential Steam boilers. Rectorseal Steamaster water treatment
  • vtfarmer
    vtfarmer Member Posts: 101
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    ChrisJ said:


    vtfarmer said:

    Thanks for that, I read it. But what’s the takeaway?

    my takeaway is: heat pumps will continue to be improved to work in low temps (I prefer ground source myself) and the grid will continue to be improved.

    Did anything actually fail in your story?

    The takeaway is that we very narrowly avoided rolling blackouts from Maine to Virginia, and actually had them from North Carolina south and west. There is NOT new generating capacity being built more quickly than it's being retired and the projections are that capacity will likely NOT be adequate to meet demand in the next few years if nothing changes.

    Use a heat pump if you like (I do), but be prepared to not be able to use it (and likely not have power at all) when the weather gets really cold.

    That's my takeaway.

    So you're saying they cannot build more generating capacity fast enough or just choose not to?

    Yes. See the PJM article I linked:


    Mad Dog_2
  • fentonc
    fentonc Member Posts: 240
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    @hot_rod - I think a lot of those facilities are actually tolerant of demand-side management (i.e. being asked to turn off when demand surges), particularly if it gets them cheaper rates. Data centers frequently have backup generators when their operation is critical. I know my organization temporarily powered down much of our compute resources in manhattan the 2 or 3 times things got dicey last summer during heat waves.

    I think economics will probably continue to drive us towards increasing amounts of solar/wind for the bulk of produced GWh (with economic incentives increasingly shifting demand to follow supply), with batteries for short-term load shifting and hydro, gas or oil plants filling in the rest. Nobody is will to pay for new nuclear plants or coal plants, and existing coal plants are increasingly uneconomic to operate. I've seen some neat presentations on geographically distributed data centers that can move loads around in real-time to wherever power costs are cheapest.
  • Solid_Fuel_Man
    Solid_Fuel_Man Member Posts: 2,646
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    @vtfarmer I was hoping you would mention your favorite part of energy grid trivia! I'm deeply involved with that small part of Northern Maine which is not connected to any part of the US. 

    That night we saw 60MPH winds, and a rather typical 10F temps. Lots of homes were out of power for days, due to down lines. 

    2 big takeaways:

    1. You MUST have a backup plan, either a large enough generator with enough fuel on site to carry you though

    2. A wood stove, or non-electric propane heater. Wood stove is preferable here in the country.

    When the power goes out, a small Honda generator and a couple of 5gal cans of gas will run your oil/LP boiler/furnace/pellet stove/fridge and lastly a wood stove with a couple of pickup loads of wood. You will make ot through 99% of anything. 

    Being completly reliant on the grid when it's frigid and then the lights go out due to an unforseen problem which is both out of your control and unpredictable in nature is just blind. 

    Heat pumps are great, but they must be considered a secondary source of heat, that old furnace, or stove must be thought of as primary. 
    Serving Northern Maine HVAC & Controls. I burn wood, it smells good!
    Mad Dog_2ttekushan_3
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,110
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    Hot water fan: Are you familiar with the great, song Paranoia (Big Destroyer) by the Kinks? Ha Ha...Actually, I wasn't even thinking about anyone in particular, just the Utopians that get hysterical and personal over the Force-fed rush to electrify-NOW! Mad Dog
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,626
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    @ChrisJ
    Control room operator sometimes. Also supervises some maintenance. They are a gas or oil-fired plant and are paid to be on standby most of the time and come online if another plant has problems. Tied into ISO New England
  • unclejohn
    unclejohn Member Posts: 1,833
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    @Mad Dog_2

    Is there a red under your bed?

    Mad Dog_2
  • Mad Dog_2
    Mad Dog_2 Member Posts: 7,110
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    Lemme look in the morning 🌄. I'll let you know! Mad 🐕 Dog

    Solid_Fuel_Man