K. Max Zhang

Can we heat our buildings with renewable electricity cheaper than natural gas?

As ~40% of the U.S. population live in regions requiring intensive space heating, and vast majority of the space heating relies on fossil fuels, the role of renewable heating is critical to our society’s decarbonization efforts. Renewable electricity-driven heating pump systems can potentially serve as a sustainable solution. With a number of state-level incentives and community-based programs, especially the Northeastern U.S., the electrification of the heating sector presents both challenges and opportunities in achieving a sustainable energy system. The Energy and the Environment Research Laboratory at Cornell University is working on several aspects of this new frontier. We posit that renewable-electricity-driven heating can potentially become economically competitive with natural gas heating WITHOUT considering the externality costs. The key is to aggregate a large population of “smart-heat” systems with advanced control to provide high quality grid services while maintaining thermal comfort. Smart-heat systems are defined as controllable, efficient heat pump systems with thermal storage. Three topics will be discussed in this talk: A techno-economic analysis comparing electricity-driven heating and natural gas heating; development of a smart-heat controller considering real-world constraints in heat pump mechanical systems; and creation of a smart-heat living laboratory in a 350-unit all-electric community to experimentally test the smart-heat control. The research described above will facilitate the large-scale electrification of the heating sector. 

K. Max Zhang

Cornell University School of Engineering

Dr. Max Zhang is an associate professor at Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Cornell University. His research areas reside on the nexus of energy and environmental system engineering, and currently focus on passive mitigation of air pollution, renewable energy planning, and sustainable heating solutions in cold climate. Several of his recent publications on those topics have been rated as “Highly Cited Paper” by Web of Science. His research and community engagement efforts have been recognized by a number of local, regional and national awards. Dr. Zhang currently serves on the Faculty Advisory Council and the Public Engagement Council, advising Engaged Cornell, a $150 million initiative to establish community engagement and real-world learning experiences as the hallmark of the Cornell undergraduate experience.