The report offers insights for building operators — including municipalities —  who may be considering upgrades to their existing gas-burning heating systems


Replacing gas-burning heating systems in commercial buildings with efficient electrified heat-pumps provides a fairly straight forward economic payback for some — but not all — building operators, according to a new report.

Entitled “Electrifying Space Heating in Existing Commercial Buildings: Opportunities and Challenges,” the research report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy includes insights for building operators — including municipalities —  who may be considering upgrades to their existing gas-burning heating systems. The Oct. 28 report provides investment payback and emissions data as well as governmental policy guidance. (You can also find out more about energy efficiency best practices at this link, on the TCAP website).

The Analysis

For its analysis, the ACEEE considered impacts from fully converting buildings to electricity, as opposed to partial conversions. The ACEEE then modeled the effects of replacing several types of gas-based heating systems with various electric heat pump systems. The heating systems considered in the analysis include packaged heating systems, boilers, space heaters, variable refrigerate flow systems, water source heat pumps, air-to-water pumps and modular multi-pipe heat pumps.

As a general proposition, the report found that the economics of converting to a high-efficiency heat pump are much better in warm regions. Among the buildings with the shortest paybacks are those that have medium-to-long operating hours, such as healthcare, food, retail, and office spaces. The ACEEE likewise found that the economic case for heat pump upgrades can improve if policymakers separately create incentives for emission reductions or if building owners separately adopt energy efficiency measures at the same time they install heat pumps.

However, the ACEEE researchers found that the economics of switching to heat pumps vary widely. The ACEEE found, for instance, that about 27 percent of commercial floor space heated with fossil fuel systems can be electrified now with a payback within 10 years.  But even with policy changes or financial incentives, electrifying the heating in other building settings — such as those with complex heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems — may still prove challenging. The report found that for many buildings, a viable strategy may be to electrify most of the heating load but to continue to support a fuel-based backup system for very cold days.

According to its website, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy promotes energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies and investments. The organization was founded in 1980 by a group of energy researchers concerned about U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

To download the ACEEE report, go here.  You can also find out more about energy efficiency best practices on this page at the TCAP website, at this link.