Energy efficiency program managers talk about the successful program, why it ended, and what’s in store for the future of residential heating and cooling.
For over 25 years, PTCS was BPA’s regional program and installation specification for high-efficiency heat pumps. It greatly benefitted homeowners, trade ally contractors and our utility customers. With PTCS sunsetting, it is time to claim success and work to develop the next great regional HVAC program.
Former PTCS program manager, Gary Smith
BPA’s Communications team sat down with program managers Bill Crabtree and Michelle Kelly for a candid interview about the program, its success, why it ended, and Energy Efficiency’s plans for the future of residential heating and cooling.
What was PTCS?
PTCS was a regional program for utilities to improve HVAC systems in residential homes, resulting in increased energy savings for the consumer as well as the assurance of quality installations of high-efficiency heat pumps and the proper sealing of ducts. Through the PTCS program, technicians learned to properly size the HVAC system and recommend the best equipment for a customer’s home, install heat pumps and seal ducts to standards well above code, and voluntarily submit to third-party inspections of work completed. The PTCS program specifications helped ensure that heat pumps and the sealed ductwork were installed correctly, resulting in a more comfortable home and more reliable energy savings.
When did the program launch?
The program, which evolved over time and used various names like “Climate Crafters,” has been around for decades. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA), one of BPA’s partner organizations, originally created the program in the late 1990s to address unrealized needs in the residential heat pump market, which at the time was still in its infancy. BPA recognized the value PTCS brought in educating utilities, contractors and end-users about this relatively new technology and took over the program from NEEA in 2007.
Mark Jerome of CLEAResult, who worked on the PTCS program for nearly its entirety said, “I love that the PTCS program helped train hundreds of HVAC technicians in the best ways to install heat pumps. And we helped make heat pumps a routine part of the equipment option to sell and install for HVAC companies.”
What was BPA’s vision when we took the program over from NEEA in 2007?
BPA wanted a holistic approach to residential HVAC, focusing on more than just technical installations. The PTCS program expanded to include classroom, field and webinar training, third-party quality assurance inspections and support for PTCS-certified contractor technicians.
What kind of impact did the program have?
In its 25-plus year history, the PTCS program certified hundreds of thousands of heat pump installations, trained thousands of contractors and significantly transformed the residential heat pump market in BPA’s service territory.
Since 2006, the PTCS program installed close to 133,000 heat pumps and sealed over 60,000 ducts in BPA's service territory. Since 2016, the PTCS program achieved about 6.4 average megawatts of energy savings, which is equivalent to preventing about 25,500 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the Northwest atmosphere.
In its last year of operation, October 2022 through September 2023, the PTCS program achieved about 1.18 aMW in savings. That is enough energy to power 859 Northwest homes for one year.
That’s very impressive. Why stop now?
The ultimate goal of every energy efficiency program is to push the market so well that the program becomes unnecessary. Think of the evolution of the light bulb, and how programs helped steer the market from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents and finally light emitting diodes (LEDs). PTCS accomplished this goal in spades. The market and products have matured, and HVAC installation best practices are well-known in the field. Additionally, the Regional Technical Forum, an advisory committee of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that provides consistent and reliable quantification of energy savings estimates for specific efficient technologies or actions, found the energy savings opportunities from PTCS practices were dwindling.
Looking back, what are you most proud of?
That residential heat pumps are now a part of the conversation, when previously they were not. The program helped transform the market, and that is something we’re really proud of. Companies have been educated, hundreds of technicians have been trained and thousands of installations have been completed. PTCS technicians achieved energy savings without jeopardizing comfort by implementing installation practices, such as control settings to reduce the time auxiliary heat is used; and HVAC unit sizing and air flow measurements have now become part of their standard work procedures.
What’s the future of residential HVAC for BPA?
BPA’s Comfort Ready Home program focuses on residential weatherization, HVAC and high-efficiency water-heating. The program connects energy utilities, contractors and homeowners with each other and with the tools they need to make homes in the Northwest more energy efficient, healthier and more comfortable.
Additionally, BPA is keeping PTCS training materials available on EE’s residential HVAC website for utilities and contractors to reference going forward. PTCS program materials, installation best practices and optional heat pump installation forms have been reviewed and migrated to the “non-PTCS,” or standard HVAC, program resources. All of these resources are now available on EE’s Document Library. BPA is still providing limited program support and expertise to our utility customers. As always, the goal should be both satisfied customers and achieving energy conservation.
Residential Sector staff are also working on a HVAC strategy that aligns with the EE Action Plan. Residential HVAC is a strategic area to capture savings and will be an increasingly important technology in the region as cooling loads become more of a concern. We want to have open conversations with our utility customers and collaborate with them on what they would like to see from BPA going forward. We will also meet with NEEA and other regional partners to discuss the current landscape of heat pump technologies and workforce development challenges to define a strategy for all parties that helps drive the continued success of heat pumps in the region.
Any parting thoughts?
Though the program has ended, the legacy of PTCS will carry forward into the market as BPA continues to assist our customer utilities as they provide HVAC programs tailored to their service territories. Utilities will continue to rely on PTCS-trained technicians to deliver services to their customers as well as leverage incentive opportunities from other grants and BPA program offerings. Heat pumps are part of the larger HVAC conversation now more than ever due to the PTCS program and the technicians who have become regional installation experts from PTCS training.
We would like to close with a message from the previous PTCS program manager, Gary Smith, who is now enjoying retirement. “For over 25 years, PTCS was BPA’s regional program and installation specification for high-efficiency heat pumps. It greatly benefitted homeowners, trade ally contractors and our utility customers. With PTCS sunsetting, it is time to claim success and work to develop the next great regional HVAC program. Special thanks to BPA leadership and staff that sustained PTCS over the years and to our fantastic IT support! Thanks all on a job well done!”
The PTCS program was a significant success story in energy efficiency market transformation with countless people contributing to the program over the years. While this is not the end of BPA’s HVAC program, it is a turning point needed to address new and evolving market needs and trends. Heat pumps will continue to be an integral part of BPA’s conservation acquisition strategy to meet our energy savings goals.
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