Air source heat pumps provide energy relief for Southeast Alaska 

By Suzanna Caldwell | Alaska Dispatch: For years, many communities in Southeast Alaska basked in the relative abundance of affordable, accessible hydropower.

But with supply, comes demand, and before long communities like Wrangell, Sitka and even Juneau found themselves turning to other renewable energy sources to make sure strained hydropower demands could be met.

One of the most popular sources to come along is the air source heat pump. With its fan-intake system and square box shape, it looks like an air conditioner — which it can be — but its primary function is to use a reverse refrigeration system that sucks heat from outside air and “steps” it up with electricity, providing an affordable alternative to heating homes with fuel oil.

The air need not be warm for the machines to work. Studies have shown that heat pumps are capable of working at temperatures as low as minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s been a big change in the market, according to Colin Craven, building science research director at the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks. He said it was long thought that air source heat pumps couldn’t heat homes in the cold climates of Alaska.

“The rule of thumb was ‘this wasn’t going to work,’” he said.

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