Elon Musk wants Tesla to make home heat pumps

(Bloomberg) — Any Tesla fans who were expecting a car announcement at Wednesday’s Investor Day are likely to be disappointed that the company has shared little new information about future car models. But Elon Musk and his executive team did provide a tidbit of information about another technology of interest to Tesla: heat pumps.

Musk opened the event at Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, talking about what the company thinks it takes to move away from fossil fuels, from powering the grid with wind and solar to using heat pumps, adding that Tesla could start produce heat pumps for homes. “The earth will transition to a sustainable energy economy,” Musk told the assembled crowd. “And it will happen in your lifetime.”

This is far from the first time Musk has spoken of heat pumps, an electric heating technology that works like a refrigerator in reverse. Heat pumps are already installed on the Tesla Model Y SUV and on newer versions of other models of the company. In 2020, Musk lauded Tesla’s automotive heat pump, telling investors on the P&L that it was the key to the Model Y’s superior range. “It’s especially important when driving in cold temperatures. And the feedback we’ve been getting from customers who’ve received the Model Y so far has been generally positive,” he said, adding that he’s “extremely excited” about building a home heating system. , a ventilation and air conditioning system that may include particulate filtration.

Home heat pumps, which could cut global carbon emissions by at least 500 million tons by 2030, are having a moment. There was a surge in installations in Europe last year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forced countries like Poland to rapidly ramp up their heat pump programs. There is a heat pump price war in the UK, sparked by the country’s two biggest utilities competing to match the cost of a gas boiler.

In the US, the Inflation Reduction Act is offering incentives to households to install a heat pump, which is expected to boost the market. Demand is up 10% year-on-year, Drew Baglino, Tesla’s senior vice president of powertrain and energy, said at an event Wednesday. Baglino described heat pumps as the key to the energy transition. “It’s about replacing all the fossil fuel heating we can,” he said.

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When used in electric vehicles, heat pumps can increase range because they are more efficient than resistive heating traditionally used to heat homes and cars. Instead of using one unit of power to produce one unit of heat, they can produce two or three. But Tesla has also struggled to get this technology into its vehicles. The company recalled vehicles last year to fix poor windshield defrost and interior heating that affected about 26,000 Tesla vehicles, especially in very cold weather.

The efficiency of heat pumps is also their advantage in homes: in the long run, they provide lower heating and cooling costs and put less strain on the electrical grid. However, Tesla would have had to give up this job. Home heat pumps are a more complex installation than traditional gas or oil boilers. They must be correctly sized and installed properly, ideally this process should be adapted to the size and isolation level of the facility. Even if the company produced a quality and affordable heat pump, it would have to find qualified installers and engineers to get it into people’s homes, and there are not enough of them on both sides of the Atlantic. Installation problems have already undermined Tesla’s ambitions for the market’s leading solar power offering.

But the upside for Tesla is huge. Bringing in heat pump customers will fuel the company’s push to create its own “walled garden” in which Tesla’s home technology — the electric car, solar panels, Powerwall battery, and heat pump — can remain seamlessly connected. Smart home technology that allows users to get the most out of their green gadgets (for example, by capturing solar energy during the day and storing it for use in heat pumps and chargers overnight) could prove to be the key to preventing power grid overload in a world where more from electricity.

“It really becomes quite an attractive solution for the consumer when you integrate EV charging, solar energy storage, hot water, HVAC in a very compact package that also looks good,” Musk said during a 2021 call with investors. “It just doesn’t exist.”

–With assistance from Craig Trudell.

To contact the author of this story:

Olivia Rudgard in London: orudgard@bloomberg.net

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