2017-08-11 / Community

South Portland to push use of heat pumps

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — In hopes of spurring residents to eschew fossil fuels for other forms of home heating, South Portland will team up with Portland, Scarborough and Falmouth to sponsor the “Casco Heat Pump Challenge.”

Locally the show, to feature five Efficiency Maine-qualified installers of ductless air source heat pump systems, will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, at South Portland Community Center on Nelson Road.

“Everybody who comes to that event will be eligible for a discount (on a home heating system),” said South Portland Sustainability Director Julie Rosenbach, when introducing the event at the Aug. 7 city council meeting. “This is just one of the things we are trying to do to work toward our climate action goals, which are in progress.”

The decision to push heat pumps came as part of South Portland’s participation in the Climate Neutral Cities Alliance. Last year, that organization, born in Copenhagen in 2014, issued a grant to six New England cities, including South Portland, Portland, Boston, Providence, Northampton and Somerville (the latter two located in Massachusetts). With that money – part of more than $879,240 in Climate Neutral Cities Alliance awards last year – the group hired Meister Consultants Group in Boston to conduct a housing study based on assessing and building permit data supplied by each city.

Meister concluded that of the 8,768 housing lots in South Portland, 88 percent are single family homes, compared to 78 percent in Portland and 22 percent in Boston. Single family homes in South Portland are predominantly owner-occupied – 76 percent, compared to 68 percent in Portland and 15 percent in Boston.

Meanwhile, in South Portland, 73 percent of homes are heated by No. 2 fuel oil, while 25 percent use natural gas and 1 percent electricity. In Portland those numbers are 81 percent, 13 percent, and 5 percent, respectively, while in Boston the breakdown is 16 percent, 70 percent and 11 percent.

In South Portland, most homes (41 percent) heat using hot water, compared to forced air (16 percent) and steam (14 percent), although Meister could not find data on 29 percent of homes. Regardless, the firm was able to determine that 94 percent of residential heating systems in South Portland are more than 10 years old, while 77 percent of city homes have no cooling technology.

Meister then took that and other data, including average home lot size, to determine which of several alternative forms of home heating had the best chance of gaining a toehold in each city.

“They took all of the technologies that will walk us toward greater sustainability, and determined that air-sourced heat pumps are the most suitable,” Rosenbach said. “There’s a lot of potential in South Portland for moving in this direction.”

Similar to the concept of a home refrigerator, an air source heat pump uses a compressor and a condenser to absorb heat at one place and release it at another. Sometimes referred to as reverse-cycle air conditioners, they can be used as a space heater or cooler. Already, units have been installed in the offices of the city manager and city clerk at South Portland City Hall.

Although the pumps run on electricity, which are often driven by coal-fired power plants, Rosenbach said getting more people on that system allows urban climate warriors to better focus their energies.

“They transition us to using electricity for heat, but in a way that’s super efficient, so that way we can concentrate on ‘greening’ the grid,” she said.

The five installers scheduled to present and answer questions at the Sept. 23 “Casco Bay Heat Pump Challenge” include Dyer Electric, Goggin Energy, Pine State Services, ReVision Energy and ReVision Heat. More information about the event, along with the discounts and rebates available, can be found online at wepowr.com/casco-bay.

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