Cold Weather Exposes Downsides of Heat Pumps, EVs and More

The very motivated Climate Emergency crusaders and politicians have an ambitious list of the things they wish to implement (along with those they want to ban).  Foremost among their favourites […]
Published on January 27, 2024

The very motivated Climate Emergency crusaders and politicians have an ambitious list of the things they wish to implement (along with those they want to ban).  Foremost among their favourites are alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar along with batteries and electric vehicles, ‘EV’s’.  They could replace all the fossil fuel-burning that power our economy, allowing us to live highly comfortable and productive lives.  However, reality is intruding, in the form of winter.

Frigid ‘Arctic Vortexes’ (i.e. cold fronts in the old days) have invaded North America, and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  Electric vehicles have frozen in parking lots and at owners’ homes and are piling up in auto dealers’ lots.  Charging stations, never prolific enough to guarantee availability to  EV drivers, are now freezing up and malfunctioning. Crucially, rural people cannot rely on EV’s.

Solar and wind power, now a substantial portion of Alberta’s power grid, have proven inadequate to deal with soaring power demand in the province’s record cold temperatures. Through bad luck, some gas-fired power plants that provide baseload power, supporting unreliable and intermittent ‘green’ power, were offline for repairs or maintenance during the recent cold snap.  This is crucial:  solar and wind have unpredictable outputs, and wind’s, more unpredictable than solar’s. Like solar, wind tends to decline at nighttime – worse in winter.  There is little energy storage, due to expense.  Soaring costs and poor performance have doomed major wind project proposals.

In the climate lobby’s fantasyland, heat pumps are to be mandated by federal and provincial governments, some municipalities, and some other governments around the world.  A local contractor noted, in a Prince George Citizen story , that heat pump efficiency plummets as outdoor temperatures decline below zero Celsius – and can fail at -25C or worse.  This affects not just northern BC but the Prairies and most of Ontario and Quebec.

The coils can frost over and cease to function, requiring backup from natural gas furnaces – the same furnaces that the Climate crusaders are plotting to ban. This means new furnace-bereft buildings facing freeze-up, busted water pipes, and even possible deaths among  their  residents.  Banning gas ranges and clothes driers, also on the hit list, would be annoying, but at least not deadly.

Heat pumps are impressive, but not as ‘wonderful’ as their crusaders have proclaimed.  Even in mild climates, and at gas prices much higher than today, heat pumps are uncompetitive against gas furnaces.  In colder climates – most of Canada – they are irrational.  It can make sense to put solar panel arrays atop big flat roofs in sunny, warm places such as Texas and Arizona, even farther north in some circumstances.  However, even then, most places rely on gas- or coal-fired power for protection against extreme cold or heat events .  Adding battery storage of an hour a day per year from the savings of solar versus grid power might someday be viable, but would never be able to replace reliable gas, coal, nuclear, or even hydroelectric (where available) power.

The nonexistent ‘threats’ from carbon dioxide and negligible actual global warming are driving irrational and disastrous public policy decisions, squandering billions and punishing our biggest exports, source of high paying jobs, and tax revenue:  oil and gas.  Canadians should oppose these draconian edicts or face dire consequences.


Ian Madsen is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy


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