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Rallying stakeholders around cold climate heat pump technology

Rallying stakeholders around cold climate heat pump technology
By Michael Berry, Michael L'Ecuyer, and Chris Watson
Sep 29, 2021
Utilities have the tools and the know-how to reach residential customers with electrification technologies. What’s missing? Education and outreach.

Cold climate heat pump programs often serve multiple clients at the same time. This often means dealing with various stakeholders—from manufacturers and distributors to contractors and everyday customers—all while working to implement the new technology across multiple service territories.

Strong relationships with stakeholders are key to overcoming any early challenges associated with cold climate heat pump technology. To rally all players around a heat pump program, providers must first understand how to navigate sometimes trickyand highly technicalterritory, such as contractor networks and program and service territories, without ever taking an eye off of the program’s larger goals.

Tapping into subject matter expertise

Having strong relationships with manufacturers, distributors, and contractors enables all stakeholders to stay up to speed on the latest cold climate heat pump products and their detailed technical specifications. When facilitated and nurtured by industry experts, these relationships can demystify complex technical details and keep everyone on the same page.

In Massachusetts, we have hosted technical training courses and currently provide information on program processes through our Energy Efficiency Learning Center. These educational materials serve as valuable resources for contractors and distributors. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority used similar tools to organize its own unique program design and plan out its large training budget.

Subject matter experts with diverse technological backgrounds are critical to managing cold climate heat pump programs and stakeholder expectations. Subject matter experts also make some of the best advocates for innovative heat pump technology. Experts are vital to the installation process, and their expertise means that they are uniquely well-suited to set and manage environmental standards at every leg of the process.

An ally network of subject matter experts was essential to getting recent projects in Massachusetts and New York off the ground. The Mass Save Fuel Optimization Cold Climate Heat Pump Initiative and New York’s Clean Heat Joint Management Committee both benefited enormously from respective ally networks of technical experts with a diverse range of expertise.

The success of the Mass Save Fuel Optimization Cold Climate Heat Pump Initiative, which assists in moving customers off delivered fuels, oil, and propane, depended in part on the education of workers and contractors on the latest heat pump technology and advanced control systems. In the latter instance, subject matter experts helped conceive alternative sizing tools to facilitate heat pump system sizing code approval. They also drafted policies and procedures for quality assurance, project documentation, and data requirements.

Early emphasis, frequent engagement

Ongoing account management and positive working relationships are critical factors for the success of any cold climate heat pump initiative.

Recruitment is only effective if follow-through during implementation supports contractors and provides them with positive feedback. Central Hudson Gas and Electric’s contractor grading systems, for example, ensure a consistent, well-trained contractor base. What’s more: They walk the fine line of not endorsing particular contractors.

Inheriting an existing contractor network is challenging. Many networks are reluctant to change, which can lead to substantial pushback when introducing new cold climate heat pump technology. To build strong relationships with contractors, new heat pump initiatives need to engage them early and often in the process. To do so effectively, focus on time and money—new heat pump initiatives should provide contractors with tools to upsell equipment and technologies and free training sessions that they can take on their own schedules.

One way to ensure contractor participation is through the requirement of ongoing training and certification classes with trainers accredited by North American Technical Excellence. Another way is by providing accessible continuing education units for contractors to retain their licensing and accreditation. 

Go to ICF
One contractor said, “I’ve been in the industry for 30 years, and the A/C tune-up course is the best course I’ve ever taken. It should be a requirement for everyone in the state.”
The Energy Efficiency Learning Center has implemented just these programs in Massachusetts to much praise from contractors.

Success starts with stakeholders

Before an organization can overcome barriers and challenges, it must first identify them. Adopting cold climate heat pump technology in colder climate zones presents some challenges, but that doesn’t mean the technology itself is not viable. It means that organizations must work harder to receive buy-in from administrative programs and stakeholders before they can effectively implement cold climate heat pump initiatives at scale. As with most new or cutting-edge technologies, some aspects may require further review. Still, whether an organization is part of the technological vanguard or the rear guard, the takeaway is the same: when implementing a cold climate heat pump program, success or failure hinges on the stakeholders.

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Meet the authors
  1. Michael Berry, Director, Energy, Residential and C&I
  2. Michael L'Ecuyer, Senior Director, Energy, Residential and C&I
  3. Chris Watson, Portfolio Director, Electrification

    Chris is an expert in the energy, renewables, and energy efficiency sector with over 20 years of experience. View bio