Future of Home Heating

As Ontario continues to think through effective climate change mitigation strategies, new efforts and initiatives will need to be innovative and involve customers across the province if meaningful greenhouse gas (GHG) emission cuts are to be achieved. Given that buildings and homes account for almost ¼ of the province’s GHG emissions, it makes sense that many of these efforts should be concentrated on them, specifically home heating solutions, and should involve homeowners directly.

Because much of the province’s electricity supply is relatively clean (non-emitting), proposed solutions to decarbonize tend to focus on full electrification of buildings across the province. However, a new study, The Future of Home Heating, conducted by MaRS’ Advanced Energy Center (AEC) in collaboration with Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc. (Enbridge) demonstrates that, when it comes to home heating in the province, a smart, hybrid dual fuel option is the way to go.

Over the last year, AEC and Enbridge have been working with a steering committee composed of Natural Resources Canada, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), Alectra Utilities and The Atmospheric Fund, to compare the economic, electrical demand and GHG-reducing performance of different electrification options for heating. The report looked at three different scenarios each using air source heat pumps (ASHP) in both retrofit and new homes. The scenarios included, one full-electric scenario using electric resistance heaters as a supplemental heat source, and two hybrid scenarios using gas appliance as backup.

The study concludes that there are three primary reasons why a hybrid option can outperform a full-electric one:

  1. Cost Savings for Ratepayers: Lifetime energy costs are significantly lower in a hybrid scenario compared to the full-electric scenario.
  2. Minimize Peak Electricity Demands: A full-electric scenario would have a high impact on the grid, raising a household peak by as much as 13kW on the coldest days of the year, compared to 0kW peak increase for ASHP/Gas Hybrid at the same temperatures. This increase for full electrification would result in a requirement for substantial grid infrastructure upgrades, especially in the distribution grid.
  3. GHG Emissions Reductions: Although the hybrid scenarios still utilize natural gas, deep GHG emission reductions are achievable with smart controls and operating strategies.

While hybrid ASHP solutions offer a range of benefits to Ontarians and the system at large, the report finds that, in order to fully take advantage of these benefits, smart controls, as well as new price structures, will be needed. For example, at current energy rates in the province, all three scenarios result in higher operating costs than if a household used today’s approach to high-efficiency gas appliances dedicated to meeting heating demands. Our model shows that electricity would need to be priced at 6c/kWh in order to incentive homeowners to run a heat pump over a gas appliance. This can be addressed with appropriate incentives and rate designs tailored to encourage ASHP operation during periods of low-carbon electricity.

Hybrid heating systems using ASHPs can help homeowners and the province maximize cost savings, energy savings and achieve meaningful cuts in GHG emissions. However, simply providing homeowners with a hybrid ASHP will not be enough. To find out more about how the full benefits of hybrid heating technologies can be untapped.

Download the report

Further supplemental information can also be found here.

For more information, please contact Sarah Martin at smartin@marsdd.com.