Suddenly, Energy Efficient Heat Pump Clothes Dryers Get A Moment

The building electrification movement is great news for fans of the heat pump. Despite the emphasis on heat, a heat pump is an energy efficient appliance that can do much more than warm up a building. Energy efficient heat pumps can also deliver AC, and now it turns out they can run clothes dryers, which is a big deal because laundry is one of the leading energy-sucking features of the modern household.

At this writing, Russian President Vladimir Putin still seems intent on murdering as many people in Ukraine as he can. Millions are fleeing and in need of assistance. To help refugees from that conflict and others, donate to the International Rescue Committee or other reliable aid organizations.

A Heat Pump Clothes Dryer For The US: What Took You So Long?

Cutting natural gas out of the laundry room is one big win for heat pump clothes dryers. The other win is cutting down on the electricity needed to run electric dryers.

However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Making the economic case for heat pump clothes dryers is no simple chore.

Heat pump clothes dryers are new on the US scene, but they have been marketed in Japan and Europe since the 1990s. In 2010, the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory took a close look at the energy efficiency angle and observed that heat pump clothes dryers “can be as much as 50% more energy-efficient than conventional electric resistance clothes dryers” in the US, the question being whether or not that improvement would make sense on a lifecycle cost basis.

The Berkeley Lab came up with a new methodology to develop its analysis, in order to bridge gaps in existing test platforms. Among other elements, that included washer cycles, dryer usage frequency, remaining moisture content, and load weight per cycle.

“The results show that HPCDs have positive economic benefits only for households with high clothes dryer usage or for households with high electricity prices and moderately high utilization,” they concluded.

That’s a good start, though it’s not the same as making a bottom line case for every household in the US to replace energy-sucking dryers with heat pump models.

How Much Energy Does A Clothes Dryer Suck?

Still, hope springs eternal. In 2014, the US Department of Energy partnered its Oak Ridge National Laboratory with GE Appliances for a $1,000,000 cost-shared project aimed at developing a heat pump clothes dryer for home use.

“Some of the challenges to address include higher initial cost, fouling of heat exchangers, lower capacity and longer cycle time,” the Energy Department warned, but they judged the payoff to be worth the effort.

“The heat pump clothes dryer has the potential of lowering the energy consumption by 60% as compared with the conventional resistance heaters,” they noted, adding that most clothes dryers in the US deploy electric resistance heaters.

“These dryers consume about 71 TWh/year in the US or approximately 4% of the total annual residential electricity use,” they explained. “ORNL estimates this heat pump dryer will save approximately 25.8 TWh per year when the new technology is fully nationwide.”

Why Is Everybody Suddenly Talking About HPCDs?

In 2017, ORNL issued a final report on its clothes dryer project, which noted that the Australian market was also developing. They also observed that the technology was beginning to take root in the US market, but was still hampered by high retail prices and relatively long drying times.

Still, ORNL has been pursuing high tech options including a new “hypersonic” system, which leads to the question of why not just use a piece of ordinary clothesline and take advantage of a sunny day, which costs practically nothing.

That’s a do-able option for many households, but many others don’t have a place to hang a clothesline, which explains why the pursuit of new energy efficient clothes drying technology is still a hot topic.

The US Energy Star energy efficiency program added HPCDs to its ratings back in 2012, and now there are at least three firms offering Energy Star-rated models for the US market, meaning that anyone who wants one, can get one pretty easily.

That doesn’t quite explain why everyone is suddenly talking about HPCDs now, except ReportLinker just released a new market report on clothes dryers in general, which includes a section on heat pumps.

Natural Gas Makes Way For The Heat Pump Revolution

The building electrification movement began to gather steam before Russia embarked on its murderous rampage through Ukraine. Now that the lethal consequences of fossil energy geopolitics have smashed through Europe’s back door, interest in heat pumps has begun to accelerate.

Aside from clothes dryers and HVAC equipment, the next likely target for the switchover is the hot water heater, so stay tuned for more than that.

Cost can still be an impediment, but utilities looking for a way to grow their sales profile are beginning to realize that they can keep the kilowatts flowing by incentivizing their customers to switch from gas appliances to electricity.

The West Virginia utility Appalachian Power provides one such incentive for existing customers to switch from a combustion-based furnace to a heat pump system, but with an interesting twist. Instead of incentivizing a gas-to-electric switch, the program is aimed at customers who use non-regulated fuels including propane and wood as well as coal.

Nobody Expects…The Weatherization Assistance Program

Adding fuel to the fire, so to speak, is a newly announced round of $3.16 billion in Energy Department funding for the longstanding Weatherization Assistance Program. The new funding comes through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and is aimed at “whole home” energy efficiency retrofits.

Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm emphasizes that electrification and heat pumps are primary goals along with insulation, leak sealing, and LED lighting.

According to the Energy Department, the Weatherization Assistance Program has provided an average annual energy savings of $372 per household since its inception in 1976.

That’s just a starting point for the new announcement.

“Today’s funding announcement will transform the WAP program by expanding weatherization services to ten times current funding levels, creating jobs, and reestablishing economic opportunities in communities that have been hitting the hardest by economic, racial, and environmental rights,” the Energy Department explains. “In addition to creating more energy-efficient homes, weatherization investments make homes more resilient to climate change, help create good-paying jobs, reduce energy costs, and support air cleaner and public health.”

That’s an interesting take, considering that all of those add-ons were supposed to be legislated into law through the Build Back Better bill.

Build Back Better passed the House of Representatives, only to be killed off by fossil energy stakeholders and their allies in the Senate. US Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has shouldered most of the blame for that debacle, but to be fair, it’s not all his fault. None of the Republican members of the Senate voted for it either.

Well, that’s all water under the bridge now. If the new WAP announcement is any indication, it looks like the Biden Administration is more than willing to shoehorn BBB-style policies into existing programs.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: HPCD courtesy of US Department of Energy, via YouTube.


 

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