Climate change has the odd effect of making many of us inordinately excited about appliances we never used to care about. Suddenly, all the background machines, which have up to now been unconsciously powering our lives, have taken on outsized importance. Some of them have the potential to provide the essential services we depend on while, at the same time, not destroying our planet like the fossil fuel powered machines of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ductless heat pumps are a prime example. In the past, many of us used gas furnaces and boilers to heat our homes and burned fuels that emitted copious amounts of CO2 in the process. Now, with the magical heat pump, we have access to efficient electric technologies for heating and cooling that can be powered entirely by renewable energy, and thus be carbon neutral.
Brief History and Growth of Ductless Heat Pumps
Ductless heat pumps (DHPs) were developed in Japan after World War 2. They were invented and perfected on an island that doesn’t have easy access to fossil fuels, and so they are the ideal heating/cooling system for our modern world given they don’t rely on combustion and are also incredibly efficient.
They condition 90% of Japanese homes, and worldwide their usage is growing like crazy, with an expected doubling of heat pump sales in the next five years. In the UK, sales are projected to increase 20 fold, and in the US, some areas are seeing sales growth north of 40% every year.
My family has used ductless heat pumps for our heating and cooling since 2012 when we bought our house. The gas furnace that came with our house was old, and we made the decision to replace it with new ductless heat pumps. (A major perk is that mounting the units on the wall saved valuable floor space in the garage, formerly dedicated to the gas furnace, which we converted into an apartment). We had seen them used in Europe and figured, even 9 years ago when the electrification movement was in its infancy, that heating with efficient electricity would allow us to reduce our carbon emissions with the solar panels we planned to install on our roof.
What is Ductless?
But what is a Ductless Heat Pump (a.k.a. mini-split)? Basically, it is a heating/cooling system that is different from a traditional furnace in several ways:
1. DHPs don’t have air ducts. Rather than forcing hot air through potentially leaky ducts, ductless systems place an indoor device on a wall and an outdoor unit (similar to a typical AC unit) which provides heating and cooling. This means no air escapes through leaky ducts, creating more efficient conditioning.
2. DHPs don’t burn things. Ductless heat pumps use electricity to provide heating and cooling. Electricity is rapidly moving towards being fully renewable and thus will soon produce zero emissions (the Biden administration set a goal of 2035 for example).
3. DHPs are like refrigerators in reverse. Instead of burning fuel, ductless heat pumps create heating and cooling through refrigeration. This means they capture heat from outside (even when it’s cold) and move it into your house, and vice versa for cooling. It’s pretty magical. The refrigerants used by DHPs can be potent greenhouse gases themselves, but luckily the world is moving quickly to using better, more environmentally friendly refrigerants (check out this website for a new type of refrigerant called R32).
4. DHPs are incredibly efficient. This is because a) no air leaks through ducts b) they heat the room they are in (rather than the whole house), c) moving heat is vastly more efficient than creating it, and d) they use inverter systems (see below). As a result, they typically use three times less energy than old electric resistance heaters and six times less than gas.
Demystifying a couple DHP terms
Speaking of efficiency, let’s demystify a couple of terms associated with ductless heat pumps.
SEER — SEER is a number that measures how well a technology provides cooling. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit. Most new air conditioners have a SEER between 13 and 21, but ductless can often see a SEER over 30, which gives you an idea of how efficient they are. If you’re in a warm climate, SEER is especially important.
HSPF — HSPF stands for Heating Season Performance Factor and complements the SEER rating in that it measures how efficiently a heat pump heats a space. The minimum required HSPF rating in the US is 7.7. An 8.5 score is considered good, and over 10 is excellent. If you’re in a cooler climate, where the predominant energy use is for heating, HSPF is most important.
I interviewed Tim Sharp, from the Heat Pump Store here in Oregon, which has installed thousands of ductless heat pumps over the last decade. He said that you’ll want your DHP to be most efficient in heating if you’re in a cold climate, and cooling if you’re in a warm climate. People in the northern US should probably focus on HSPF, while in the southern US, people should focus on SEER. Tim also said that investing in a DHP with higher scores will be more expensive up front, but the additional cost usually pays for itself over time through energy savings.
Ductless Heat Pumps in Cold weather
I also learned from Tim that DHPs were originally developed to provide only cooling (like a refrigerator), yet they have “constantly gotten better for heating purposes in almost every environment.” If you’re in a cold climate, you probably want to think about the “extended capacity” models, which are able to provide more heating. According to Tim, they don’t cost significantly more and offer more BTUs per hour output. Read more on how to use heat pumps in cold climates here.
Ductless vs. Ducted
If you have existing ductwork in a space, you may consider a different approach when transitioning to heat pumps. Not all heat pumps are ductless. You can get central heat pumps that work with a typical central AC system, and provide heating that blows that hot air through ducts. These central heat pumps are not much more expensive than central air conditioning, and many people think that swapping out every central AC system for a ducted heat pump is an important strategy to quickly get us off natural gas and reduce carbon emissions.
Ductless, on the other hand, is a no-brainer when you’re adding heating or cooling to a room without any ductwork. And DHPs also offer greater efficiency as well as economic and environmental advantages over a central ducted heating system. In addition to the efficiencies mentioned above, ductless heat pumps use inverter technology, which means they run at variable speeds. Tim from the Heat Pump Store compares this to starting your car at a red light. Inverters slowly rev the engine when starting and stopping, while typical central AC systems gun it and brake hard, meaning they are much less efficient. All DHPs use inverter technology, while virtually all conventional (ducted) heat pumps don’t, meaning DHPs are much more efficient.
My family chose ductless heat pumps in our house, rather than a whole house heat pump, even though we had existing ductwork from our old gas furnace because of the increased efficiency.
Humidity and air quality
Though ductless heat pumps help to dehumidify a room, it is not their primary purpose. In places with humidity problems, a separate dehumidifier may still be necessary. Similarly, DHPs have built in air filters, but can’t generally filter air to the extent that ducted systems do with high rated MERV filters. Tim from The Heat Pump Store said that air filtering is considered a separate system, from heating/cooling, in places where heat pumps are most prevalent, and people typically buy another device for air filtration.
There are four leading brands of ductless heat pumps: Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, LG, and Daikin. Most of the top brands are Japanese, given they first developed the technology. This NY Times article has some solid reviews on each of these four brands.
Choosing a contractor
Finding a good installer is important. Many contractors may try to talk you out of electric heating and cooling (and into gas). Plus, you’ll want someone to help you correctly size a system for your needs. That means someone with lots of experience in ductless heat pump systems as well as a good reputation and reviews. Getting three bids is always a solid strategy. One pro tip is to look on a manufacturer’s page for contractors in your area that are certified to install their product.
Cost and Aesthetics
As Tim told me in our interview, ductless heat pumps aren’t a panacea. Any technology has its downsides. As my wife points out, the indoor equipment that sits high on your wall takes up space and isn’t the most beautiful thing in the world. Ductless Heat Pumps can also be expensive. A system with a single indoor unit can run $3,000–$5,000, but if you’re putting multiple “heads” throughout your house, costs can quickly go over $10,000.
Yet, for me, after 9 years of heating and cooling our house with ductless heat pumps, and with the climate emergency we find ourselves in, any drawbacks to ductless heat pumps are vastly outweighed by their immense benefits. Heat pumps are the heating and cooling technology for this era of climate change, and ductless heat pumps are the most efficient versions of this technology. They allow us to get off fossil fuels and efficiently heat and cool, in any climate, with clean electricity.
Learn more and do a deep dive into Ductless Heat Pumps with Tim from the Heat Pump Store in a recent webinar I hosted with Electrify Now, and let us know about your thoughts and experiences with ductless heat pumps in the comments below!
Aptera’s clever new community funding program prioritizes your SEV delivery the more you invest
One week after sharing details of its Launch Edition Solar EV, Aptera Motors has announced a community funding program called Accelerate Aptera, hoping to raise between $20 and $50 million. By investing a predetermined minimum, reservation holders have a better chance at receiving delivery of one of the 2,000 Launch Edition Apteras planned. Better still, the person who invests the most on the leaderboard (yes there’s a leaderboard) locks in delivery slot #1.
It’s been a newsworthy week for Aptera Motors and solar EV companies in general. With one fellow SEV startup toiling through a bankruptcy filing and another fighting for its life, our hope in a future of EVs powered by the Sun currently rests heavily on Aptera.
Last Friday, the company’s cofounders Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony held a live streamed webinar, where they walked the public through the specifications of Aptera’s unified, preconfigured Launch Edition solar EV.
The startup’s loyal community was up in arms about the lack of DC charging capability, but it took just three days for the cofounders to take to YouTube once again and quickly makes things right. ALL Aptera solar EVs will now come equipped with DC fast charging, including the Launch Edition. Phew.
While most of last week’s Aptera news was exciting, one discouraging aspect was the fact that deliveries of the Launch Editions remain at least a year away and that the startup needs another $50 million in funding to reach its first gate of scaled production.
Well, the guys at Aptera are back with another video, this time explaining the launch of a new competitive community funding campaign called Accelerate Aptera, complete with a leaderboard.
Aptera’s accelerated funding program starts at $10,000
The company shared details of its new accelerator program in a post to its website this afternoon, which also included a new video from its cofounders you can peep below. First off, Aptera’s team is working through a Series B2 funding round, but says that will take time to secure and finalize.
Aptera has received a $21.9 million grant, but it is all but guaranteed and the process will not be completed until February or March. Furthermore, the grant is a reimbursement, so Aptera must complete eligible purchases (production equipment, machines, etc.) up to $21.9 million with its own money first.
Enter #AccelerateAptera – the company’s latest community funding program intended to put money in the bank and bridge to gap toward prospective grants and series funding rounds. Per the release:
We want to deliver solar mobility to the world as quickly as possible. Our Launch Edition vehicle is only one of many future products we hope to build that will make the world a better place. Once funded, we expect it will be 12 months until production of our first vehicle commences. Without funding, we anticipate our timelines will continue to be pushed back. Our community has always been our biggest asset and we’re asking our order holders and other supporters to now help us to accelerate our growth. If we can raise $20-50 million to execute on the first phase of our production plan, it will help tremendously. We expect our use of proceeds to include capital expenditures such as equipment and tooling and assisting in completing the requirements for obtaining the grant.
Here’s how the accelerated funding program works.
From now through March 26, anyone can invest a minimum of $10,000 in Aptera to join the Launch Edition leaderboard. Investments over $10k qualify you for a $100 coupon (okay?) and a 5% discount on your Aptera solar EV (up to $2,500 and does not include purchase price).
Whoever contributes the highest investment by the end of the funding round will receive the first delivery slot of 2,000 planned Launch Editions. The remaining 1,999 slots will be prioritized down the leaderboard.
Lastly, those reservation holders who already have their hard earned money invested in Aptera will have those amounts added to their leaderboard funding total… as soon as they donate an additional $10,000.
You can join the funding leaderboard by investing here, and can follow the “competition” here. If you still haven’t reserved an Aptera, you can do so here and get $30 off the $100 fee. To learn more about the Accelerate Aptera campaign, see the video below where the cofounders explain it best.
Norway just greenlit this vertical-axis floating wind turbine
Swedish wind turbine maker SeaTwirl got the go-ahead to test its 1 megawatt (MW) S2X vertical-axis floating offshore prototype in Norway.
Vertical-axis floating wind turbine pilot
In March 2022, Norway’s Ministry of Energy gave approval to SeaTwirl and Norwegian offshore wind test center Marine Energy Test Centre to pilot the vertical-axis floating wind prototype for five years at a former fish farm in Boknafjorden, northeast of Lauplandsholmenoff, 700 meters (2,297 feet) from the coast.
But four groups – the Norwegian Environmental Protection Association, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association, and two campaign groups – appealed against SeaTwirl’s permit, and so the project was put on ice.
Yesterday, the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate rejected the appeal, so SeaTwirl’s S2X pilot can now proceed, and no further appeals will be considered.
CEO Peter Laurits said:
Our main focus is the commercialization of large turbines, SX, in floating wind farms. The outcome provides freedom to choose and plan the installation of S2x in the way that best supports that goal.
How S2X works
SeaTwirl says that “multiple S2xs can be placed in a dense pattern for increased output.” The company’s reasoning for building vertical (instead of horizontal) axis floating turbines is this:
The simplicity of the design and low center of gravity are the big advantages. All moving parts and electrical systems are easily accessible [and] close to the water’s surface, lowering maintenance costs.
The S2X prototype is 55 meters (180 feet) above sea level, and it’s around 80 meters (262 feet) below sea level. The turbine diameter is 50 meters (164 feet). Its rotor blade height is around 40 meters (131 feet). Its optimal operating depth is 100 meters (328 feet) and deeper.
SeaTwirl isn’t the only company testing vertical-axis wind turbines off the Norwegian coast – earlier this month, aluminum and energy giant Hydro and floating wind specialist World Wide Wind announced that they’re going to test a vertical-axis wind turbine made out of aluminum.
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Audi hints at luxury electric 4×4 to compete with Mercedes Benz and Land Rover
The luxury electric 4×4 you’ve been waiting for is set to emerge in 2027, and no, it’s not the Mercedes Benz G-Class or Land Rover Defender. It’s a new secret project from Audi.
A luxury electric Audi 4×4 coming in 2027
In a first from Audi, the German automaker is showing interest in the luxury 4×4 segment. The secret new electric SUV will feature a top-notch interior with the ability to perform its best on and off the road.
Audi unveiled its new activesphere concept Thursday, a four-door crossover coupe that doubles as a truck. The concept combines a luxury SUV, sports car, and off-roading pickup into one versatile EV.
Although this is a separate concept from the planned electric Audi 4×4, the off-road EV gives us an impression of where the automaker is headed.
In an interview with Autocar, Audi’s head of design, Marc Lichte, hinted at the idea of a new 4×4, saying:
I think there is space [for a rugged SUV in Audi’s lineup]. There is potential because there are only two premium players, and I think there is space for a third one.
Lichte didn’t give up details other than mentioning it will ride on one of Volkswagen’s platforms other than the Audi-Porshce co-developed PPE platform like the activesphere concept.
Since Volkswagen’s next-gen SSP platform designed for all segments has been delayed until at least 2028, there’s a good chance Audi’s new 4×4 will share technology with VW’s recently revived Scout off-road brand of vehicles.
Following Volkswagen’s announcement last year that it would revive the Scout brand for an all-electric lineup and bring rugged SUVs to the United States, reports surfaced VW was considering Canadian parts manufacturer Magna (which also builds the Mercedes Benz G-Class) to help build the vehicles.
The initial plans called for Audi to build Scout models in a new US facility but were later scrapped. According to Autocar, the two brands may still benefit from each other.
Audi is already working with Magna to develop electric vehicle batteries for the Scout brand. With VW reportedly leaning toward having the part supplier build 100,000 Scout EVs, there could be room for an additional 50,000 electric Audi 4×4 models to be built alongside.
Audi is already familiar with electric off-road technology with its beastly RS Q e-tron rally car (and Quattro four-wheel drive tech) and is well known for its premium luxury interior. It seems like a match made in heaven to me.
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