Solar panels and wind turbines get all the attention, but an underappreciated device is helping slash emissions in a big way: the heat pump. Instead of generating heat by burning natural gas, like a furnace does, an electric heat pump extracts warmth from outdoor air and transfers it inside. In the summer the device reverses, pumping indoor heat out to cool the building.
Sales of heat pumps are booming all over the world; some 4 million were installed in the US in 2021, up from 1.7 million in 2012. The US Department of Energy is hoping to juice those numbers even more, with an announcement today of $169 million in federal funding for domestic heat pump manufacturing. Funded by the Inflation Reduction Act—the huge climate bill passed last year that also provides tax credits for heat pumps—the awards will go toward nine projects across 13 states, creating 1,700 jobs.
“Getting more American-made electric heat pumps on the market will help families and businesses save money with efficient heating and cooling technology,” US secretary of energy Jennifer Granholm wrote in a Department of Energy statement provided to WIRED. “These investments will create thousands of high-quality, good-paying manufacturing jobs and strengthen America’s energy supply chain.”
The Biden administration is making the move by invoking the Defense Production Act, a provision that allows the president to spur the manufacture of materials needed for national defense. In this case, according to a press release, the administration is “using emergency authority on the basis of climate change.” The Biden administration has previously used the DPA to speed up the production of integrated circuits and Covid vaccines. Before that, the Trump administration invoked it to boost the production of personal protective equipment during the early days of the pandemic.
“The president is using his wartime emergency powers under the Defense Production Act to turbocharge US manufacturing of heat pumps for a multitude of reasons,” says Ali Zaidi, assistant to the president and national climate adviser. The first is to improve energy security by reducing reliance on international supply chains, like for components, he says. And because heat pumps are electric, they aren’t subject to swings in fossil fuel prices. “This is our opportunity to make our families more resilient in the face of global energy volatility,” Zaidi adds. “The way we unlock that is by bringing home the supply chains for technologies like heat pumps.”
The DOE’s nine projects, across 15 sites, cover the domestic production of both the pumps and their individual components. So in Three Rivers, Michigan, Armstrong International will boost its manufacturing capacity of industrial heat pumps, while in Detroit, Treau (aka Gradient) will make smaller units for homes. Money will also go toward producing the compressors used in the devices, plus refrigerants, in states like Missouri, Louisiana, and Ohio.