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Ultra-efficient heating equipment

Project location: Various locations across Canada

Project lead: CanmetENERGY Ottawa

Timeline: 4 years (2019 to 2023)

Program: Built Environment

Project description

Our team is performing research and development (R&D) activities on ultra-energy-efficient heating technologies, in pursuit of energy savings and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.


Together, space and water heating account for 85% of all energy use and 77% of all greenhouse gas emissions from the built environment.

Figure 1: Space and water heating account for the majority of GHG emissions coming from housing and buildings (the built environment).

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A breakdown of GHG emissions (in mega tonnes of CO2 equivalent) by source reveals that space heating in Canada results in nearly 70 MT of CO2 emissions per year. Of this 70 MT of CO2, approximately 62% comes from natural gas, followed by 18% electricity, 11% wood, 6% oil, and 3% other. Following space heating, water heating results in nearly 20 MT of CO2 emissions per year, followed by appliances (less than 10 MT CO2/year), lighting (less than 10 MT CO2/year), auxiliary equipment (around 5 MT CO2/year), and auxiliary motors and space cooling (less than 5 MT CO2/year).

Furthermore, the built environment accounts for around 23% of Canada’s GHG emissions when broken down by end-use sector. Achieving the targets set out in the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change is only possible if Canada significantly cuts emissions associated with space and water heating in homes and buildings.

Breakdown of Canada’s GHG emissions by end-use sector in 2015

Figure 2: Breakdown of Canada’s GHG emissions by end-use sector in 2015. Source:

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In 2015, a combined 23% of Canada’s GHG emissions came from the residential (14%) and commercial/institutional (9%) sectors. These two sectors represent the “built environment”.

Today's space and water heating equipment performance will not allow Canada to achieve these targets, and individual manufacturers and industry players have limited capacity to undertake research and assume risk to deploy ultra-efficient solutions.

CanmetENERGY Ottawa is addressing these issues by increasing industry confidence in ultra-efficient solutions through our coordinated science and technology (S&T) program of prototype development, laboratory testing, field trials, energy performance modeling, and stakeholder engagement. Our team is working with industry to accelerate the commercialization of ultra-efficient technologies and to support Canada's transition to net-zero and carbon-neutral buildings.

Residential HVAC evolution

Figure 3: Residential HVAC evolution

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The historical evolution of Residential HVAC can be viewed in the following fashion: It all started with the Romans with the hypocaust for distributing heat. In pre-1930’s, heating was mostly achieved through burning coal, attaining efficiencies of 40 to 50%. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, oil-based heating was very common with efficiencies in the 60 to 70% range. The new millennium brought us natural gas space heating appliances that achieved over 90% efficiency and water heating systems that achieved approximately 55% efficiency. From 2010 to 2018, natural gas combination systems that were capable of supplying both space and hot water heating, and supporting zoned distribution of heat at efficiencies of greater than 95% became available. Looking at the period of 2018 to 2025, hybrid systems that combine space and water heating coupled with thermal storage and running on both natural gas and electricity with usage of smart controls and attaining greater than 100% efficiency will emerge. The years 2025 and onward will see heating systems that are integrated and boosted with solar energy. Low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants will become increasingly available for these systems. Seasonal efficiencies of greater than 300% are envisioned.

Advancing ultra-efficient heating equipment

CanmetENERGY Ottawa is working with partners through a combined focus on improving space and water heating technologies, and progressively reducing fossil fuel use to power the systems, in favour of renewable energy. Our state-of-the-art labs allow for unbiased evaluations of various technologies.

Our R&D plans include designing, developing, and/or evaluating first, second, and third generation hybrid space heating technologies. The scope of this work implies that it will continue well beyond the current research cycle (for several years).

First-generation technologies are, in part, available now, but some minor development work, technology demonstrations, and information dissemination activities are still required. Our work in this area will gradually diminish to zero by the end of our current R&D cycle (March 2022).

Second-generation technology activities, such as integrating micro-combined heat and power (mCHP) and organic Rankine cycle (ORC) technologies with thermally driven or electric heat pumps, will command 40 to 60% of our team’s efforts until April 2022, and will then gradually diminish to between 5 and 30% of our effort beyond that time.

Third-generation technologies focus heavily on integrating solar or other renewable energy sources into highly efficient heating systems. This effort will rapidly grow over time to take up to 85% of our group’s effort.

Figure 4: First, second, and third generation technology overview

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The scope of the ultra-efficient equipment project includes activities broken down by first, second, and third generation, as well as application of Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the technologies developed under all three generations. The evolution from first to third generation activities is characterized by an upward energy performance trajectory through evolving heat pump technology.

First generation technologies include technologies such as natural gas-fired heating systems coupled with electric heat pumps (commonly referred to as residential natural gas hybrid systems). These systems will be complimented by sizing guides and training. Also under the first generation are commercial rooftop heat pump hybrid systems and heat pump-integrated heat recovery ventilators (HRV). Efficiencies under first generation activities will attain greater than 100% efficiency.

Second generation activities include natural gas-fired heat pumps, as well as hybrid systems consisting of micro-combined heat and power (mCHP) technology coupled with heat pumps. Such systems will attain coefficients of performance (COP) of up to 1.3.

Third generation systems will include solar-assisted heat pumps and other novel heat pumps that will attain coefficients of performance (COP) of up to 3.0.

First-generation systems

Demonstrate that natural gas hybrid systems can attain seasonal levels of efficiency greater than 100% (Coefficient of Performance (COP) greater than 1.0). These systems that are largely available today but require some modifications, including controls or fuel switching.

Second-generation natural gas hybrid systems

Demonstrate that seasonal Coefficients of Performance (COPs) of up to 1.3 can be achieved.
  • Include thermally driven heat pumping and engine-driven heat pumping systems
  • Initially utilize low-cost natural gas as the fuel and provide space and water heating in typical Canadian climate conditions

In the future, technologies can be adapted to work with other thermal energy sources, like solar thermal or photovoltaic (PV) energy, hydrogen fuel, biomass fuel or renewable natural gas.

Third-generation systems

Demonstrate that solar-assisted systems can achieve seasonal Coefficients of Performance (COPs) greater than 3.0.
  • Develop cost-effective, high-performance heat pump heating systems by combining on-site renewable energy technologies, such as solar thermal or liquid-based hybrid photovoltaic-thermal (PVT) panels with heat pumps, designed for Canada’s cold climates and buildings conditions
  • Build on CanmetENERGY’s previous work on solar-assisted air-source heat pump space and water heating, and on our expertise on compact solar water heaters and solar thermal technologies
    • Work is currently being conducted on solar-assisted heat pumps (SAHP) with both vapour-compression (VC) and solid-state thermoelectric modules (TEM) technologies. 

Transformational activities: artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT)

Seek to use AI and the IoT as tools to predict performance of power and energy systems and to reduce home and building energy use.
  • Smart space and water heating where sustainable information and communication technologies improve the quality of their performance for the occupants, while reducing GHG emissions
  • Internet of Things (IoT) applied to smart heating for intelligent networking of heating systems, which open up new possibilities for remotely controlling and monitoring heating systems in both smart homes and commercial buildings

How we will achieve our objectives

Our team is undertaking the following activities in pursuit of our objectives.

  • Prototyping: We will develop new technology concepts and construct prototypes for ultra-efficient heating systems
  • Bench testing: We will evaluate our prototypes in controlled, laboratory settings to determine performance and identify areas of improvement
  • Field trials: We will collaborate with industry partners to conduct field trials of the proposed technologies in real-world conditions, and collect evidence to identify and address/ manage risks
  • Demonstrations: We will lend S&T support to industry and government partners in support of a large-scale delivery of the technologies
  • Technology transfer and dissemination: We will collaborate with industry to support commercialization, and with government to support program design and regulation

Projected market adoption timeline

Figure 5 represents an estimated timeline of when we expect the results of our R&D may be adopted and implemented in the market.

Market adoption timeline (approximate)

Figure 5: Market adoption timeline (approximate)

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When are results of the ultra-efficient heating equipment project likely to be adopted? What is the market adoption timeline? We can expect that from 2020, market uptake of natural gas heating with electric heat pumps will begin. From 2025 onwards, market uptake of natural gas heat pumps and mCHP hybrids will begin. By 2030, market uptake of solar-assisted and other novel renewable energy hybrid heat pumps is expected to begin, resulting in GHG emission reductions of 30%. Targets for GHG emission reductions of 50% are expected by 2040 and 80% by 2050.

CanmetENERGY Ottawa works closely with Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) in supporting the development of Performance Ratings Procedures, Design Guides and Equipment Standards in order to advance the market update of energy efficient space and water heating technologies.

Our partners

Our team brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to this area. However, we recognise that the success of this work depends on strong collaboration with other government, industry, and association partners across Canada and beyond. Our partners include, but are not limited to:

  • Ottawa Community Housing
  • Canadian Home Builders’ Association
  • Mattamy Homes
  • Queen’s University
  • Carleton University
  • Natural Resources Canada’s Office of Energy Efficiency
  • Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE)
  • Distribution Inc.
  • The Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI)
  • Kier
  • Enbridge
  • City of Varennes
  • CSA
  • Canadian Gas Association (CGA)
  • Mitsubishi Motors

Contact CanmetENERGY in Ottawa

To learn more about this project, email our Business Office.

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