Think Energy

Recap: Mitigating the Impacts of Winter (Part 1)

Dec 4, 2023

Winter isn’t always a wonderland. In Canada, the season brings a flurry of unique challenges, heightened in recent years by extreme weather events. This episode, the first of two parts to close out the year, revisits thinkenergy’s coolest clips sharing energy considerations and solutions to help mitigate the impacts of winter on our homes, infrastructure, and safety. Hear from experts Shawn Carr, Manager of Customer Experience at Hydro Ottawa, and Nick Levac, FLM at Hydro One.

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Dan Seguin  00:06

This is think energy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin, as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey everyone, welcome back. As Canadians, we're quite familiar with the trials of enduring harsh winters. While most of us aren't residing in eagles, at least not your average Joe's, we've all had our fair share of snowfalls turning homes into winter wonderland. Those long, cold and snowy winters present unique challenges not just for us, but for the energy sector as well. In this special episode, I'll be kicking off part one of our winter highlight reel. Today, we'll revisit cool clips from previous think energy episodes where we dove into the winter related challenges impacting the energy sector. As I've engaged with various experts in the field, we've explored the heightened electricity needs and demands for heating in sub zero temperatures and the increased risks of infrastructure damage. The first highlight is with Shawn Carr, Manager of Customer Experience at Hydro Ottawa. Sean will be shedding light on cold climate heat pumps, he discusses how these innovative solutions not only reduce carbon emissions, but also proved to be an effective way for Canadians to navigate our climates diverse temperature extremes from scorching summers to bone chilling winters. Now, what is a cold climate heat pump? And is that what Canadians should purchase?

Shawn Carr  02:07

Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. And so advancements in air source heat pump technology now means that there are heat pump options that are, I would say, far better suited or adapted to operating in the cold Canadian climate. And those are referred to as cold climate heat pumps. What makes them different from a traditional air source heat pump is it's really just some of the equipment that's contained within the unit. So they use variable capacity compressors, inverters, improved heat exchanger designs and controls to maximize heating capacity at colder temperatures while maintaining high efficiencies during milder conditions. And so what that means is they can still redirect heat from outside to inside your home quite efficiently even in conditions down to minus 20 degrees Celsius or less. So to classify as a cold climate heat pump under the federal Canada greener homes grant which we can talk more about later, heat pumps must have a coefficient of performance a CLP of 1.8 or higher at minus 15 degrees Celsius. So that means that the heat pump must maintain an efficiency of at least 180% at minus 15 Celsius. And just again, as a reminder, the most efficient gas burning furnaces out there have an efficiency of like 96 or 97%.

Dan Seguin  03:49

Okay, I've got another follow up question here for you. Can cold climate heat pumps meet the heating demand on their own? Or are there circumstances where backup heat is required?

Shawn Carr  04:04

Yeah, so I guess the short answer is it depends. You know, whether or not you need a backup heat source for your heat pump is going to depend, you know, on a number of factors, you know, for example, the type of heat pump you purchase, the climate zone you live in, and the design and efficiency of your home. So, in some parts of Canada that are milder, a heat pump might be all you need, but in other colder areas, you will most certainly need a backup system. And that's because you know, as the temperature drops, heat pumps start to become less efficient at heating and when the temperature gets to a certain point, you know, the unit will shut off altogether or it'll work in tandem with your backup heat system and that shut off point is going to dip Hand on your unit, the unit that you chose, but typically, that shutoff point could be anywhere from minus 15 Celsius down to minus 25 Celsius or lower. So, you know, what I will also say is the heat pump system is not typically sized to deliver 100% of the peak heating load that your home is designed for, because that could lead to an oversize system that might cycle on and off. So, it's really important, I would say that if you're considering a heat pump that you work with a mechanical contractor for selecting and specifying a heat pump and a backup heat source that's going to be right for your home, you know, right for your budget and your needs. And there are many options for a backup heat system. Some heat pumps come with an integrated electric resistance heating system that functions as a backup system at very low temperature. So think of that as just like an electric resistance element like a hairdryer that's been installed inside your dock. However, there are also natural gas backup options such as traditional high efficiency furnaces that can be used as a backup source if your home happens to be centrally ducted. And these are often referred to as hybrid heating systems.

Dan Seguin  06:24

Okay, something a little more technical here, our air source and ground source heat pumps, the most common types for Canadians. And maybe you can talk to us about what are some of the differences?

Shawn Carr  06:39

Yeah, I would say that they're certainly the two most common types for Canadians. I mean, air source is by far the most common type for Canadians followed by ground source. Really, the main difference with a ground source heat pump is they actually use the ground as the source of heat in the winter and as a reservoir to reject heat removed from the home in the summer. And so rather than the air being the heat transfer mechanism, it's actually the ground. The main advantage of ground source heat pumps is they are not subject to the extreme temperature fluctuations we get with air because the ground is a more constant temperature source throughout the year. And what that ends up ultimately doing is it actually can drive higher efficiencies. The downside to ground source heat pump typically is that they are more expensive to install, there's more labor involved and they may also require landscape alterations, so they may not be suitable for for all property types, depending on whether you've got the space in the land to be able to accommodate the loops that need to get installed in the ground and so on. So you know, that said they're, they're very efficient, which means greater energy savings and ground source. Heat pumps tend to work well and in almost all climates because they're not impacted by big fluctuations in outdoor air temperature.

Dan Seguin  08:19

Now, if you're in the market for upgrading the heating and cooling system, a cold climate heat pump just might be the right fit. I'm hoping this information will be helpful as you do your research. Okay. Moving on, we have a quick snippet from our episode on Being a Good Neighbor to our Trees in the Age of Climate Change. In this interview, I speak to Hydro Ottawa as Nick Levac. He shares his perspective on tree trimming and how our company aims to strike a balance between ensuring public safety and infrastructure maintenance in Ottawa. Our winters consisting of mix freezing rain, frigid winds, and record snowfalls can cause chaos for all of us. And our trees also bear the brunt of it. Here's what Nick had to say. Nick, pruning, and especially removal of interfering trees often cause controversy. In an age of climate change and environmental responsibility. What do you tell folks that object to or have concerns about the important work you do to help keep the lights on entry safe?

Nick Levac  09:40

Yeah, that's a great question. We, you know, I think you hit the last word there. And your question kind of hits on our main goal of everything that we do here at Hydro is safety. So not only are we looking out for the public safety, ensuring that trees are coming down on the line and staying energized, but we're also looking to know for worker safety. So As we're going through, we tried to do preventative maintenance, so to speak. So very much like you get your oil changed in a car or you put your winter tires on this time of year, we're trying to trim trees away from the lines to make sure they don't come in contact that avoids outages, unplanned outages, especially because, you know, it's one thing to get a phone call to say, Hey, your power is going to be out because we're doing preventative maintenance, whether it's tree trimming, or upgrading electrical system, it's another thing to wake up at two o'clock in the morning and have your lights out the heat off and everything and it's unexpected, and you're trying to get ready your kids, you're at home or whatever. So preventative maintenance is the big thing. And we try to educate our customers that what we're doing out there is really just to make sure that we can decrease outages and especially those unplanned outages. The other thing that we look at when we're pruning trees is the tree health. And I know Greg's gonna get into this I think a little bit later on, but just looking at the species of a tree and how we trimmed them to make sure that the health of the tree is also a huge interest for arborists that are up there. They're all certified trained arborists with some extra training on the electrical side, because obviously, we're trimming around live electrical lines. But when they get up into a tree, they're looking at the health of the tree. There's a lot of stuff once they get up into the canopy of the tree that they notice that you can't see from the ground. So they're taking into account and they're taking out any deadwood or anything in there and, and try to not only like I mentioned before getting those clearances that we need for the electrical side, but also trying to enhance the tree growth away from our lines and looking at the health of the tree by taking the dead wood or anything out of it.

Dan Seguin  11:40

Now, as you all know, trees play a vital role in our city from a sustainability lens but also in beautifying our city's landscape. Thankfully, our teams are looking out for every possible way for trees to not only coexist with hydroelectric infrastructure without causing unplanned power outages. But to thrive no matter what kind of winter we're having. Navigating winter and climate change is going to continue to be a hot topic of conversation in 2024 Especially as we face harsher weather conditions and our reliance on electricity increases. So thanks again for joining me for this Part one of our winter highlight reel. Please tune in on December 18 for part two. Folks, thank you for listening and I hope you have a happy and safe holiday. Thanks for tuning in for another episode of the think energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review wherever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit I hope you will join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.