The Long Path Towards Clean & Efficient Heating

January 21, 2020

The Long Path Towards Clean & Efficient Heating

by: Chris Y.

After writing about the emerging awareness amongst communities in California of environmental problems caused by methane ( natural gas) in my previous blog. Today, I woke up to temperatures of -20°C (-4°F) here in Ottawa, Canada.  While it can get colder, this first real shock of winter this season reminded me of an occasion, roughly 10 years ago when standing in a farmer’s field close to the Ontario - Quebec border that the seed for what has become Art of Heat was initially planted. 

That day, I was having a conversation with investment bankers from Hamburg, Germany about financing for what would later become one of the largest solar farms in North America. It was, while standing in a farmers field halfway between Ottawa and Montreal at -20°C with people not used to these temperatures, when one of the Europeans pointed out that in this climate there is a greater need for heat than electricity.

That comment stuck with me. When we finally completed the sale of the completed solar farm, I began to look into heating, earnestly. Building on my experience with large scale solar farms, and commercial rooftop solar, I was naturally drawn towards solar heating, ground source heat pumps and other emerging heating options, as being suitable solutions. 

However, when subjected to the same kind of rigorous due diligence that we apply to solar PV, it was clear that problems with reliability and predictability present significant risk to consumers and challenges to the financing, and eventual scale up of solar and ground-source heating alternatives.  

During this exploration of the prevalent alternative heating technologies, I had the opportunity to work with an innovative mechanical engineer/inventor, with an innovative approach to produce both electricity and heat at a residential building scale by reviving and modernizing long forgotten mechanical principles of combined heat and power.  

Although, this innovative approach was well received by the Canadian Sustainable Development Technology Canada Natural Gas Fund, a leading North American natural gas pipeline and even Germany Trade and Invest, all of whom were eager to find low carbon heat and power solutions.  

It was during this period, when it became clear that the market opportunity for energy efficient space heating is not limited to northern climates like Canada. While it may come as a surprise to people in Ontario or Quebec that jurisdictions like California or Arizona need heat, a detailed examination of energy consumption data in the United States will reveal that most regions in the United States consume more energy for space heating than they do in electricity. 

While the promise of a significant energy efficiency breakthrough with our technical innovation was appealing, and the prospect of transformative energy breakthrough intoxicating, it became painfully clear through a conversation with one of the world’s largest sustainable energy investors, that our natural gas based heating solution would not be bankable in the future. 

Fast forward to the announcements banning natural gas by: Carlsbad, Berkley, Windsor, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Monica, Menlo Park, San Jose, Davis, Marin County, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Milpitas, Alameda, Santa Rosa, Pacifica, Mill Valley, Saratoga, Brisbane, Los Gatos and Healdsburg. Join a growing list of bans on new natural gas heating in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway and others are a clear reminder that my decision to pursue innovations in highly efficient electric heating solutions can be a greater breakthrough in comfort and convenience, than trying to support fossil fuel producers by introducing marginal efficiency gains.