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Philadelphia Heat-Pump Training Lab

Philadelphia Training Lab Aims to Accelerate Heat-Pump Installations

Buildings are a major source of carbon emissions, and one of the most effective ways to lower those emissions is to convert fossil fuel-based heating systems to electric heat pumps. If implemented worldwide, converting to heat pumps from traditional boilers and furnaces could cut global carbon dioxide emissions by three gigatons per year, according to a 2022 research report from McKinsey & Co.

Thanks to technological advances, the conversion process is much more efficient and less expensive now than it used to be. McKinsey estimates that heat pumps could constitute roughly 90% of new heating unit sales by 2050, up from 35% as recently as a year ago.

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The problem is finding enough workers in a market where the demand for heat pumps exceeds the number of people trained to install them. Leaders in Philadelphia came up with a novel solution by opening a heat-pump training lab that provides skill certifications in clean energy and efficiency. The idea is to train as many technicians as possible to help the city decarbonize its more than 700,000 homes, Canary Media reported.

The lab was launched by the Energy Coordinating Agency (ECA), a nonprofit whose mission is to “help people conserve energy and promote a sustainable and socially equitable energy future.” The lab officially opened on May 19 and will be integrated into the ECA’s existing HVAC training program, PBS affiliate WHYY reported. The program currently serves a few dozen trainees.

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In addition to training workers to electrify homes, the new lab will help them earn decent pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration mechanics and installers in Pennsylvania exceeded $53,000 a year as of May 2022.

Many of the training spots will go to disadvantaged individuals. The ECA told Canary Media that it plans to recruit lower-income residents, people of color, women, and ex-prisoners to become heat-pump installers and technicians.

That’s in keeping with the ECA’s mission since the organization was founded in 1984.

In 2009, it launched the Knight Green Jobs Training Center to prepare Philadelphia’s diverse population for clean energy jobs. The ECA has provided more than 5,000 entry-level students, returning citizens, and building contractors with professional training in the past nine years.

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The new heat-pump lab will offer training in the operation and installation of several different pieces of equipment, including heat-pump dryers, hot water heaters, and various heat-pump home heating and cooling systems. 

“What we want to do is get them all together so we can get our students familiar with all the different types of equipment, so they can go out and be the best technicians possible,” Jackie R. Robinson, the ECA’s lead instructor, said in an interview with WHYY.

The program represents a new approach to heat-pump training, which typically takes place either through trade-school programs or via in-house training at large contractors or heat-pump manufacturers, according to Canary Media. To help get the heat-pump lab off the ground, the Philadelphia Energy Authority committed $100,000 to train as many as 40 people.

Photo Courtesy ECA

Because heat pumps run on electricity – which can be powered by renewable energy – they are considered a key to transitioning away from carbon-emitting power sources.

This is especially true in cities like Philadelphia, where natural gas is the most significant source of carbon emissions in residential buildings. Emissions from natural gas across all buildings and industries in Philadelphia grew 4% between 2006 and 2019, WHYY reported.

Alon Abramson, director of residential programs at the Philadelphia Energy Authority, said he’s “really excited” about the heat-pump lab.

“I think it’s exactly what’s needed,” Abramson said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck kind of moment for Philadelphia and other areas around the country. We need to have the capacity in place to serve that customer demand.”


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