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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Community Campaigns for Renewable Heating and Cooling

HeatSmart Northampton, MA

The city of Northampton, MA worked with the organization ener-G-save to gather thermal imaging on 100,000 area homes, revealing which homes were the best candidates for energy-efficiency improvements. Courtesy photo.

Georgena Terry, CESA Research Associate

Note: This is the second in a series on community-based strategies for increasing the adoption of residential renewable heating and cooling technologies. For more information on community-based strategies and renewable heating and cooling technologies, please see Green Energy Times’ September-November 2019 issue and read the Clean Energy States Alliance’s full report and case studies.

Renewable heating and cooling (RH&C) community campaigns, commonly called HeatSmart, are running successfully across the U.S. These campaigns build on the successful Solarize community campaigns, which dramatically increased the adoption of solar photovoltaic applications and reduced costs through bulk-purchasing discounts. Below, we highlight one of the original HeatSmart communities and provide information on its goals, outreach approaches, and impacts. HeatSmart strategies vary from community to community; these strategies are easily replicable and adaptable in other communities.

The City of Northampton, Massachusetts is a national leader in combatting climate change. It adopted its first Climate Change Strategy in 2010. The current strategy has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by 2050 from 2000 levels. Strategies for reducing GHG emissions include increasing deployment of renewable energy, renewable heating and cooling, and energy efficiency technologies, and promoting local economic development around clean-energy technologies.

Building on the successful 2013 Solarize Northampton campaign, Northampton developed the HeatSmart Northampton program, which sought to increase the adoption of RH&C technologies. HeatSmart Northampton offered only air source heat pumps (ASHP), because ASHPs had more recognition than other technologies, and a contractor base already existed in the area. In addition, MassSave rebates and HEAT loans were available to lower costs.

Lawn campaign posters advertised the HeatSmart
campaign. Photo credit: HeatSmart Northampton.

Like the widely known Solarize program, HeatSmart Northampton relied on municipal officials, local volunteers, and competitively-selected installers to implement a community group-purchasing, outreach and education campaign. Northampton sought out potential HeatSmart customers by emailing surveys to existing Solarize contacts to ascertain the level of interest in the program. Approximately 600 residents completed the survey.

Northampton released a HeatSmart Northampton Request for Qualifications to identify ASHP installers to participate in its program. To be eligible to participate in HeatSmart Northampton, an installer had to be qualified as a “primary installer” under the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) Clean Heating and Cooling Program. Primary installers have met certain criteria and are eligible for rebates. In addition to meeting MassCEC’s qualifications, selected installers were asked to propose discounted fixed-fee costs for the installation of ASHPs.

The program recruited volunteers to spearhead outreach. Despite their enthusiasm for climate mitigation, many volunteers were not familiar with ASHP technology. One of the City’s first tasks was to educate them about ASHPs. Ultimately, these volunteers explained ASHP benefits including their carbon and cost reduction potential to more than 1,000 residents.

HeatSmart Northampton used Tableau analysis (a visual analytics platform) to create a visual data portfolio, mapping residential building attributes, such as year built, building type, existing heating system, and current heating fuel, to identify potential program participants. Volunteers approached homeowners that the Tableau analysis identified as high-value potential customers.

Other outreach strategies included “Meet the Installer” workshops, open houses at the homes of residents with ASHPs, social media, placements in newspapers and on television and radio, signage, direct mailings, and staffing tables at local community events.

There were no specific eligibility requirements for ASHP applicants. The program sought to attract those homeowners who would appreciate the environmental benefits of clean energy and who would save money by switching away from high-cost heating fuels. HeatSmart Northampton recommended, but did not require, home efficiency and weatherization improvements to make sure the ASHP performed as expected. However, the program did require that HeatSmart customers undergo a MassSave energy assessment so they could access state incentives.

One hundred sixty two individuals expressed interest in the program through the HeatSmart Northampton website. These initial inquiries led to 130 installer site visits and 106 price quotes. Ultimately, installers installed 54 ASHP systems. Compared to the regional average cost of heat pumps after rebates, the HeatSmart Northampton prices were approximately 3 – 16 percent lower for the same ASHP models.

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