What are gas heat pumps and how can they save money and energy?

June 21, 2022

man in industrial setting

Update: October 30, 2023

What if there was a way to heat buildings with technology that’s more than 100 per cent efficient while using gas?

Well, now there is: gas absorption heat pumps. This technology can help commercial and industrial organizations lower annual operational costs, reduce energy use and provide a pathway to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

With this technology being new to the B.C. market, we’ve answered some frequently asked questions below about how these heat pumps can achieve efficiencies of more than 100 per cent and ultimately help your organization’s bottom line.

Do I have to switch to electric heating to use a heat pump in my business?

No, you don’t have to make the switch to electric heating because gas absorption heat pumps are available. This is a new way organizations can continue to use gas and they can even opt into our Renewable Natural Gas (RNG)1 program. This reduces the amount of conventional gas being used, thereby reducing GHG emissions.

What are gas absorption heat pumps?

First, let’s discuss how a heat pump works. A heat pump transfers heat from one area to another. One of the main differences between a heat pump and a furnace is that heat pumps use energy to transfer heat whereas a furnace generates heat through the combustion cycle.

Gas absorption heat pumps are the latest innovation in heating equipment for commercial buildings. These units use energy to capture heat from the ambient outdoor air as an additional energy source and then transfers it indoors to provide space heating, hot water and/or ventilation. By transferring heat, the energy output is greater than the energy input which is why gas heat pumps can achieve efficiencies of more than 100 per cent.2

diagram showing how a gas heat pump can achieve efficiencies of more than 100 per cent

This diagram shows how a gas heat pump can achieve efficiencies of more than 100 per cent. When 100 units of gas3 is inputted into the unit, it’s used to start a cycle within the system to capture energy or heat from the ambient outdoor air which can account for 30 to 70 units of energy. With only about 10 units of energy loss, the total energy output of heat available is between 120-160 units that is moved inside the building and the energy output becomes greater than the original energy input, which is how the units can achieve efficiencies of more than 100 per cent.

What are the benefits of installing a gas absorption heat pump in my building(s)?

There are a range of benefits that come with installing a gas absorption heat pump that can help you meet provincial climate action goals and put less pressure on your bottom line.

  • Gas absorption heat pumps can reduce energy use by up to 35 per cent because they are able to operate above 100 per cent efficiency. This will help your organization save money and energy year-over-year.
  • The units can also maintain optimal efficiency levels in colder climates, meaning you can continue to save energy when temperatures drop.
  • Gas absorption heat pumps can also reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent when switching from standard-efficiency gas equipment like a furnace or boiler.4 To help organizations further reduce emissions and support provincial climate action goals, they can opt into our RNG program and designate a portion of their gas use to be RNG.
  • Renewable Natural Gas is made from biogas produced from decomposing organic waste. In the future, we expect these units will be able to operate on gas-hydrogen blends, giving customers options for how they can decarbonize their businesses.
  • The option to use gas heat pumps allows business owners to continue using gas in their commercial and industrial operations. Moving to an all-electric system can be costly because of the potential infrastructure upgrades that may be needed to handle the increased energy demand. Instead, installing a gas heat pump allows our customers to significantly lower their building’s emissions and work towards climate action goals that may require fewer building upgrades than switching to electric systems.

How do you know gas absorption heat pumps can achieve these energy savings?

Before we release a rebate offer on a new technology, we put it to the test through a pilot program. In this case, we installed Robur A gas absorption heat pumps at seven commercial sites across B.C. The units were installed to serve the domestic hot water needs for the sites and our team measured the performance and efficiencies of the units from 2019-2020. In addition, we also consider the ease of installation and maintenance requirements for the units. We collect feedback from contactors and pilot participants to better understand how the technology is operating and if they’re satisfied with the performance of the units.

FortisBC’s innovative technologies team

Our innovative technologies team (left to right), Jim Kobialko, Marysol Escamilla, Mila Barbour and Rav Deol, was instrumental in testing Robur gas heat pumps in B.C. and helped install the units at seven commercial sites to see how well they performed in real-world settings. 

At the end of the pilot, the results showed that organizations could achieve up to 35 per cent in energy savings. When surveyed, some contractors found that installing these units was similar to installing a condensing boiler, making it a somewhat familiar process, and clients reported having no complaints or interruptions to their domestic hot water.

More recently, we’ve been working with 13 organizations through our early adopters offer. These enthusiastic organizations are installing gas absorption heat pumps in their facilities, which include a healthcare centre, a university trade and technology centre, a number of multi-unit residential buildings and schools, a recreational centre and a fire hall.

We will be working with these organizations over the next two years to learn more about how this technology works within different building systems, continue to verify the energy savings and evaluate additional ways organizations can maximize energy savings.

How much does a gas heat pump cost?

Gas absorption heat pumps range in price and the units themselves can range between $20,000 to $25,000. However, factors like installation, piping and insulation costs will impact the total cost for a gas heat pump depending on the size and scope of the project.

If you’re interested in exploring how much a heat pump will cost, you can speak directly with a contractor who’ll be able to give you a more specific cost estimate for your building. We’re working closely with members from our Trade Ally Network—of licensed gas contractors—to ensure they have the information and training they need to safely and properly install gas heat pumps.

Do I need to install any other equipment with a gas heat pump?

No, you don’t need to install additional equipment with a gas absorption heat pump. You can install one of the units on its own to serve the building’s domestic hot water, space heating and/or ventilation needs. However, this could be a good time to think about if any other equipment is nearing the end of its service life and if so, consider replacing it with a high-efficiency model.

To maximize energy savings, it’s best to think about how the building systems and controls work together. For example, by pairing a gas heat pump with a high-efficiency boiler or water heater, it can help optimize the heating load and you could see even more energy savings. Smart controls can also help ensure the system is operating effectively based on the energy demand.

Who can I call for advice when starting my project?

We understand when installing a new technology, you may have some specific questions and we’re here to help you every step of the way.

Our key account managers and energy solution managers work directly with commercial and industrial customers and will help you throughout this process.

Are there rebates available for gas heat pumps?

Yes! Our commercial gas heat pump rebate programis available to customers with commercial, multi-unit residential and institutional buildings, from office buildings, hotels and schools to hospitals, recreation centres and care homes. The program is available for retrofit applications, and the building must have a dedicated outdoor space either on the ground level or roof for the gas absorption heat pump units.

Commercial customers can receive up to $200,000 in rebates depending on the scope of the project. There is funding available for customers to complete a technical feasibility study.

1Renewable Natural Gas is produced in a different manner than conventional natural gas. It is derived from biogas, which is produced from decomposing organic waste from landfills, agricultural waste and wastewater from treatment facilities. The biogas is captured and cleaned to create Renewable Natural Gas (also called biomethane).

2Coefficient of performance (COP) and gas usage efficiency (GUE) results of more than 1.0 were achieved in a Robur A gas absorption heat pump systems with dynamic controls, as recorded by Building Energy Solutions (BES) Ltd. in its Measurement & Verification report for the gas absorption heat pump pilot, phase 3 and 4, September 9, 2021.

3The energy input into a gas absorption heat pump can be natural gas and/or Renewable Natural Gas.

4Standard efficiency equipment includes furnaces, boilers and water heaters that are between 60 to 80 per cent efficient.

5Participants must be a FortisBC gas customer under any rate class except Rate 1 and be an owner or long-term leaseholder of the existing commercial or industrial building. View full terms and conditions for the program on the program page.