Clean energy journalism for a cooler tomorrow

Heat pumps sold so fast in Maine, the state just upped its target

The chilly New England state blew past its goal to install 100,000 heat pumps by 2025. Now it’s pledging to install 175,000 more by 2027.
By Alison F. Takemura

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White rectangular appliance equipment - a heat pump - under a cap of snow. The heat pump is mounted to the side of a house.
(Efficiency Maine)

A state that braves some of the most frigid winters in the country has not only enthusiastically adopted heat pumps — it’s also stepping up its commitment to the clean-heating tech.

In 2019, Maine embraced heat pumps as part of its climate strategy, setting a goal to install 100,000 of the machines by 2025.

But a few days ago, Maine Governor Janet Mills (D) announced that the state had surpassed that target two years ahead of schedule, deploying at least 104,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses. Now, the state has set a new goal: installing another 175,000 heat pumps by 2027.

We are setting an example for the nation,” said Mills at the announcement event. Our transition to heat pumps is creating good-paying jobs, curbing our reliance on fossil fuels, and cutting costs for Maine families, all while making them more comfortable in their homes — a hat trick for our state.”

Electric heat pumps, which are essentially reversible air conditioners, can be two to four times as efficient as gas furnaces. They’re key to decarbonizing home heating: A recent analysis by climate think tank RMI found that heat pumps can generate less than a tenth of the emissions of gas furnaces over their lifetime, depending on the state. (Canary Media is an independent affiliate of RMI.)

But even as heat pumps leapfrog gas furnaces in popularity, the pervasive myth that they don’t work in cold climates may still be holding back adoption. Maine’s success with the tech provides yet more evidence that heat pumps can help eliminate fossil-fueled heating everywhere — not just in the states with warmer winters.

That’s good news, because heat pumps need to rapidly expand to all corners of the U.S. if the country is to reach its net-zero goal by 2050. To stay on track, contractors will have to sell 5.4 million heat-pump systems in the U.S. by 2027, according to electrification advocacy nonprofit Rewiring America. Inflation Reduction Act incentives could help make this a reality, but those subsidies will only work if building owners and installers believe that heat pumps are reliable.

Maine’s new target will aim to install heat pumps in 1,000 to 2,500 businesses and 60,000 to 70,000 homes, according to Efficiency Maine, which administers heat-pump rebates for the state. A typical Maine home often requires three 12,000 Btu/​hour heat-pump units to cover its heating needs. Families can receive up to $1,200 for two installed units if those heat pumps meet specific high-efficiency criteria. American Standard, Daikin, Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric and Samsung make the models that most commonly qualify for the rebates.

The Inflation Reduction Act will further turbocharge Maine’s efforts in energy efficiency with $72 million in rebates that help people weatherize their homes and install heat pumps and other types of efficient electric equipment, according to Efficiency Maine.

Heat pumps are ready to go mainstream across the U.S. to replace the fossil-fuel systems that we’ve used for the last 100 years,” said Michael Stoddard, executive director of Efficiency Maine.

Maine weather has helped prove heat pumps’ mettle. In February, a cold snap hit Maine with some of the iciest temperatures seen in five decades. Windchills fell below -60˚F.

Efficiency Maine checked in with heat-pump owners across the state to see how they were faring. They reported that they were comfortable and warm,” he said. So we know that [heat pumps] are performing at very cold temperatures.”

And research from the winter of 2021 showed the same thing: Maine’s heat pumps performed reliably in below-freezing weather, and customers reported being satisfied with them. Efficiency Maine also found evidence of cost savings. One couple with a newly installed heat pump paid a total of $1,000 to heat their home between November 2021 and April 2022, while using an oil furnace during the same time span would have cost them $3,000.

Maine’s long track record with heat pumps also buoys Stoddard’s confidence in the technology. More than 140,000 heat-pump units have been installed in the state over the past decade, he said. If they were not functioning in the cold weather, we would have received a lot of complaints by now,” he said. Instead, the group has observed incredibly high customer satisfaction.”

Data from Colorado further corroborates heat pumps’ ability to perform well in extreme winter weather. One 36-hour deep freeze in December 2022 saw overnight lows dip to -18˚F and daytime highs climb up to only 0˚F. But heat pumps were able to maintain families’ desired temperatures in the range of 60˚F to 75˚F, according to Elephant Energy, a home-decarbonization company.

When it comes to heat pumps’ cold-climate credentials, the proof is in the pudding,” Stoddard said.

Alison F. Takemura is staff writer at Canary Media. She reports on home electrification, building decarbonization strategies and the clean energy workforce.