By Jonathan Comstock, Director, HeatSmart Tompkins
You already loved Purity Ice Cream, but now you can love them even more. When the owners of the iconic Ithaca institution renovated their shop, they decided to scoop out a little happiness for the planet, too. Today, Purity heats and cools its entire operation with high-efficiency ground source heat pumps, and it powers those pumps – not to mention its lights, machinery, and appliances – entirely with solar energy.
When we at Solar Tompkins considered nominees for our first HeatSmart Award for Outstanding Earth Stewardship, Purity was a natural choice.
For co-owner Bruce Lane, ground source (also known as geothermal) heat pumps were the perfect answer for a year-round business that consumes a considerable amount of energy. Not only have the heat pumps drastically reduced the company’s greenhouse gas emissions, but they have also made life more comfortable for customers and employees alike.
“Geothermal is almost like magic,” Lane marveled. “Most of the energy for heating comes from the earth and is available for free. And cooling with geothermal is so inexpensive that we could even afford to air-condition the kitchens, something that restaurants rarely do because of the cost.”
Solar Tompkins created the earth stewardship award to help spread the news about the magic of heat pumps and related technologies.
“People are taking action in both the private and commercial arenas all over our county, and we all need to know about it, and celebrate it, and think about how we can each be part of this progress,” said Brian Eden, chair of the Solar Tompkins Board.
Solar Tompkins is a local nonprofit led by volunteers and funded by donations and grants. The award, and indeed all our work, is intended to accelerate the global process of “beneficial electrification,” which combines renewable electricity generation with high-efficiency electric alternatives for heating and cooling buildings, fueling vehicles, and powering industry.
Beneficial electrification is the path we urgently need to take if we are to reduce climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that it is a broad one with room enough for all of us.
Solar Tompkins has been traveling this path since our founding five years ago. We began by facilitating the adoption of solar panels by local homeowners and businesses. In just two years, the program more than tripled the number of photovoltaic installations in Tompkins County. Our success can plainly be seen today on rooftops and in yards throughout our region, and in the number of companies now offering solar services.
As awareness of solar technology grew, and as community and commercial solar farms began to flourish, we decided to shift our focus to heating and cooling. After all, most of us heat our homes by burning fossil fuels in our basements, and those of us who use air conditioning tend to power it with electricity from fossil fuel-burning plants. In fact, heating and cooling together account for roughly 70 percent of all residential greenhouse gas emissions in Tompkins County.
HeatSmart Tompkins organizes publicity campaigns, community meetings, and public tours of homes and businesses with heat pump systems. We vet installers who work one-on-one with property owners to assess and improve the efficiency of their buildings, and then, where appropriate, install air or ground source heat pumps for heating, cooling, and even hot water. We make no money on the installations we help to arrange.
Heat pumps aren’t as visible as solar panels, but more and more area homeowners, developers, and business owners are making the switch, just as Purity Ice Cream did.
And with good reason. Heat pumps are clean, healthy, safe, and highly efficient. They provide cooling and dehumidification as well as heating. While sizing, cost, and other specifications will vary from building to building, business owners and homeowners with oil, propane, or electric baseboard systems can often save money by switching over. When powered by renewable electricity, heat pumps are virtually emissions-free.
Our innovative HeatSmart program has not just begun to move the home heating and cooling market in Tompkins County and surrounding areas; it has also become a model for organizations in other communities across the Northeast.
We hope the HeatSmart Award for Outstanding Earth Stewardship will help raise awareness even further. If you own or know of a business or facility that might qualify, send me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org. And keep your eyes out for our next HeatSmart campaign, which will launch after May 1. For more information, visit us at solartompkins.org.
Remember, there’s no sense in waiting for solutions to climate change. The solutions are waiting for us!