The Defense Production Act brings heat pumps home
By Ari Matusiak, CEO and co-founder, Rewiring America
A few weeks ago, the Department of Energy announced $169 million for nine new U.S. manufacturing projects to manufacture heat pumps, courtesy of the Defense Production Act (DPA). This is a big deal. A really big, thermally comfortable deal.
What is the Defense Production Act? And what does it have to do with electrifying everything for everyone?
The DPA allows the President ‘to direct private companies to prioritize orders from the federal government … to ‘allocate materials, services, and facilities’ for national defense purposes… [and], to bolster domestic product … [to] offer loans or loan guarantees to companies, subject to an appropriation by Congress; make purchases or purchase commitments; and install equipment in government or private factories.” If you have heard of the term “the Arsenal of Democracy” when the major factories in the U.S. made munitions, bombers, and tanks for WWII, the DPA is the legacy of that. Remember “Rosie the Riveter?” Well, the DPA announcement is about Hannah the Heatpumper.
When Putin invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there were all kinds of dire predictions about how quickly Ukraine would fall and what it would mean. There was also massive disruption in the energy markets. Europe’s vulnerability to Russian energy dominance became crystal clear. Gas at the pump here spiked to $5 and $6 / gallon, demonstrating that our pocketbooks are also vulnerable to the mood swings of despots and oligarchs so long as we are beholden to global commodities like fossil fuels to power our daily lives.
On Saturday, February 26, we at Rewiring America, alongside veteran climate activist and author Bill McKibben, hatched a little plan to call for the DPA to be invoked to manufacture heat pumps, by building out our own domestic supply chain, shoring up energy security to help get Europe off gas.
By Sunday, February 27, Bill McKibben wrote a terrific post calling for the DPA, Senator Martin Heinrich agreed to co-author an op-ed calling for “heat pumps for peace,” — and by the end of that week, the policy outline was drafted.
The response to this proposal was hot (see above) and cold (You can’t use the DPA for that!). But there was a basic truth to the idea that strengthening the production of electric machines here in the U.S. would render us less dependent on others, and better able to support and power the world.
A few months later, the President invoked the DPA for critical minerals, solar panels, and heat pumps, the core ingredients of a bright, electric future. And then the Inflation Reduction Act passed, with billions of dollars in tax credits and rebates to help individual families participate. And now, about a year later, 15 sites across 13 states are getting investments to manufacture heat pumps. With more announcements coming.
There is something dramatically tangible about building factories to manufacture heat pumps for American families. We need these machines here, and we need an army of people to build them, install them, service them, and make their own homes comfortable via heat pumps, too.
It is hard to overestimate the power of the heat pump, as our need to electrify 124 million homes over the next few decades will mean a massive electric switch, the likes of which we have never seen, except in wartime mobilizations. We will need to electrify 24 million machines, including 2.38 million heat pump space heaters, over the next three years to meet the Pace of Progress required to hit our climate goals. But thanks to Hannah the Heatpumper, and thousands more like her, we can and we will.
We began the campaign for the DPA with some fun retro art. Today, we have new art! We made posters to celebrate the supply chain journey that will end in homegrown heat pumps for all: a chicken in every pot becomes a heat pump in every spot. Why is it so important to celebrate these two-in-one appliances and the government’s efforts to support the manufacturing of them? Because so many Americans still do not know that we must go electric, and that we have money to do it, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. Our Mr. Heat Pump is not just a comedian, but an electric educator. We need thousands of electric enthusiasts to get heat pumps, tell their friends, and wear t-shirts proclaiming their love for all things electric. (Last one optional.)
Like most important things, this will be hard. We have limited time, and lots to do. And we know there will be friction and difficulties, as there are when you transform any market of this scale, and especially as we work to make electrification accessible and affordable for everyone. But we have to say bye gas and buy electric, for reasons that go well beyond the pretty darn important one of maintaining a habitable planet. These inducements include healthier homes, cleaner air, energy bill stability, and community resiliency.
As Bill McKibben wrote to us after the announcement, “it was such a joy to make change with you.” We at Rewiring America were overjoyed to make change with him. And with all of you, heat pump by heat pump by induction stove.
The good news is that the pace of this transition is accelerating everywhere, and 2024 is poised to speed things up further. Here’s to a new year full of climate progress, as we electrify for peace, planet, and prosperity.