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!
Photo courtesy of The Heat Pump Store
Teledriving mobility service Vay to remotely deliver EVs in Vegas as it expands to US
Europe’s first teledriving (remotely driving) service is entering the US market and intends to setup shop in Sin City to begin. Vay is establishing its new US headquarters in downtown Las Vegas, where it will begin testing its teledriving service by dropping off and picking up rental EVs to customers around the city.
Vay is a German teledriving specialist based in Berlin that has taken a remote-first approach to driverless vehicles in which an operator drives a given EV from a dedicated hub. Vay is aiming to gradually introduce more autonomous driving functions in its system as they become more safe and are permitted to do so.
For now, however, the service relies on teledrivers, whose immediate focus is on the driverless transportation of rental EVs to customers. Those customers can then hop in the EV, drive off and then park whenever they are done, enabling Vay to step back in and remotely drive the vehicle back to base.
After operating a vehicle in Hamburg this past February, Vay declared itself the first and only company to drive a car on European public roads with no one inside. We’ve personally experienced this same approach to rideshare mobility in Las Vegas when we went for a ride with Halo.Car.
With its sights now set on the US, Vay will have to compete with Halo.Car in Vegas – the home of its new headquarters.
Vay to compete in growing driverless EV market in Vegas
Following its plans for expanded certification to operate driverless vehicles in Europe, Vay shared details of its expansion to the US, beginning in Las Vegas. The US entity will be lead by general manager Caleb Varner, who joined Vay in late 2022 after leaving Uber where he was director, global general manager, and co-founder of Uber Rent & Valet. Varner spoke:
I am excited to be a part of Vay and launch our service in the US. Vay’s teledriving technology and innovative approach has the potential to reshape the way people move – not only is that a huge business opportunity, but also a service that we see missing from today’s transportation ecosystem. The broader team at Vay is excited about taking this german-born technology and using it to change the way Americans move and building a future with reduced personal car ownership.
To begin, Varner will work closely with Vay cofounder and CEO Thomas von der Ohe to implement Vay’s teledriving technology in the US market that supports the launch of its own remotely driven mobility service. Von der Ohe also spoke to Vay’s new home in Vegas as a kickoff in the US:
We are excited to enter the US mobility market. Our team is talking to stakeholders in various states and has started to work on launching an initial service. The market is ready and the responses we have received so far from regulators, city governments, and potential customers in the US show that it’s a very dynamic market that we will be exploring in the near future!
Like Europe, the approach will begin with remote deliveries of rental EVs around Vegas, but certain permits and certifications are required. Luckily, Vay has the support of Las Vegas’ International Innovation Center, located in the downtown Arts District. Vay’s new headquarters sits within this office which remains part of an investment in economic development in the city.
I guess I will have to go to Vegas and take a test ride in one of Vay’s driverless cars. Twist my arm!
Here’s where Toyota’s first US-made EV, an electric 3-row SUV, will be built
Toyota’s largest plant globally is going electric. The company revealed Wednesday it would assemble its new three-row electric SUV at its Georgetown, Kentucky, facility starting in 2025. The new SUV will be Toyota’s first US-assembled EV as the market continues to surpass expectations.
Toyota’s first US-assembled EV will be in Kentucky
“Toyota Kentucky set the standard for Toyota vehicle manufacturing in the US and now we’re leading the charge with BEVs,” Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, explained.
The Toyota Kentucky plant is the company’s largest manufacturing facility globally, with the capability to produce 550,000 vehicles annually, and will now lead Toyota’s vehicle carbon reduction efforts in the US.
Toyota says the batteries for its three-row electric SUV will come from the company’s new battery factory in North Carolina. The plant was initially revealed in late 2021. Today’s announcement from Toyota reveals the plant will receive an additional $2.1 billion investment, bringing the total to nearly $6 billion.
Sean Suggs, president of Toyota Battery Manufacturing at the North Carolina facility, commented on the new funding, saying:
With this proactive infrastructure investment, we will be able to quickly support future expansion opportunities to meet growing customer need.
The NC plant will produce lithium-ion batteries with six production lines (four for hybrids and only two for EVs).
The Governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, said through a $591 million investment for future projects in Scott County, Toyota is committed to retaining 700 full-time jobs.
Although Toyota didn’t reveal any new details of its first US-assembled EV coming in 2025, we know it will be a three-row electric SUV as part of ten new electric cars planned to launch globally.
Toyota aims to sell 1.5 million EVs globally with the new models by 2026 as it looks to keep pace in the rapidly expanding electric car market.
Apart from the company’s first global EV, the bZ4X, Toyota has released an electric sedan, the bZ3, in China and teased upcoming models, including a sport crossover and family SUV.
Since passing last August, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has attracted well over $100 billion in private-sector investment in EVs, batteries, and manufacturing. Toyota is one of many automakers and suppliers that have revealed plans to build on US soil.
That being said, with its first US-assembled EV arriving in 2025, will it still be too little too late for the automaker?
Either way, Toyota is doing what it should have done years ago. It’s building its EV supply chain capabilities with battery factories while retooling manufacturing facilities. In addition, Toyota is developing a dedicated EV platform that will help streamline production and double the range of future electric models with more efficient batteries, according to the company.
With the latest slew of announcements from Toyota, the company is noticeably accelerating the pace of EV development. Perhaps, after watching EV makers like Tesla and BYD steal market share, Toyota is looking toward the future rather than the past.
Former footballer Drogba is E1’s newest team owner ahead of first electric boat racing season
The UIM E1 World Championship electric boat racing league has found its latest team as it prepares to launch its inaugural season later this year. Former Chelsea and Ivory Coast footballer Didier Drogba and his partner Gabrielle LeMaire have signed on as owners of the fourth E1 racing team to join the growing league.
The UIM E1 World Championship is a nascent electric boat racing league created by Formula E and Extreme E founder, Alejandro Agag, and Rodi Basso – a former director of Motorsport at McLaren with a background in Formula 1 engineering.
We’ve been following the new sport’s progress for over a year as it has evolved from testing its all-electric RaceBird boats, to a growing league of teams led by some familiar names. Venice emerged as the inaugural E1 race team in April of 2022, and was soon followed by team Mexico owned by Formula 1 driver Sergio Perez.
Early this year, we shared news that tennis great Rafael Nadal had signed on as E1’s next team owner, bringing his native Spain into the fold to compete on the water. As the young championship series continues to develop (and tries) to fill all ten of its initial team slots this year, it has found its latest team owner in soccer (or football) legend Didier Drogba.
Team Drogba joins E1 donning the Ivory Coast flag
E1 announced the addition of Team Drogba to the UIM Championship this morning, which will be co-owned and managed with the footballer’s partner, Gabrielle LeMaire – a successful businesswoman and marketing expert. E1 cofounder and CEO Rodi Basso spoke about what the new Team Drogba owners bring to the league:
This team is so exciting for the E1 Series, blending diversity, inclusion and sustainability with a fire to compete and win. They are a dynamic duo that show how important it is to have equal representation and opportunities for men and women in motorsport, from the boardroom to the cockpit. And their commitment to ocean health and technological change will help take E1’s message further and wider. It’s exciting to see the fleet take shape and there’s more big announcements in the pipeline.
Similar to his new rival “Rafa” Nadal, Drogba’s foundation supports sustainable developments outside of the competitive arenas to make a positive impact on the planet. The former footballer and his partner also help provide a positive impact on the lives of African children living in poverty.
Together, the new E1 owners hope Team Drogba can help the new E1 series reach a global audience and inspire it to join the race to create a more sustainable world. Drogba spoke to the ownership opportunity and the people that have inspired him:
Sport and sustainability together, it’s a winning combination. Gabrielle and I are both fierce competitors so we’re going to build a strong team. We’re inspired by legends such as Senna and Schumacher, but most especially by Lewis Hamilton, winning F1 championships, breaking barriers and acting as a leader for a new generation of pilots.
Pollution has caused the destruction and loss of coastal habitats around the world. The degradation of our underwater eco-systems poses a series threat to marine life and livelihoods of coastal communities. So we want to have a positive impact through the accelerated development of clean technologies and inspiring change. But we’re also going to have fun for a great cause. Rafa and Checo, get ready! We are coming for you. And we’re here to win!
The inaugural UIM E1 World Championship is scheduled to begin later this year as race
organizers state they will continue to accelerate preparations, promising more teams and confirmed race venues soon. Better hurry.
This is another big get by E1 as it looks to bring as much hype to season 1 as possible… whenever that may be. The original schedule was originally anticipated to begin this past spring, but we still seem to be a ways away as E1 is now saying “late 2023” for a championship series kickoff.
The nascent series now has four teams, but has always hoped to begin racing with at least ten, so it’s going to have to hustle to find more owners quickly to get a viable competition together.
Although I do want to see E1 racing begin sooner rather than later, I don’t mind waiting because I’m genuinely unsure what I’m waiting for, meaning I’m not even sure what to expect in electric boat racing. The prospect of it looks promising, and the adjacent focus on foundations and the environment is a big plus – similar to Formula E. People love a brand with a positive cause.
I’m looking forward to seeing what countries/teams/owners join in next and how well season one goes. I’d very much like to see a competition in person, but E1 has to get there first. I’ll be watching!
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