Randy Doyle talks Heat Pump Helper technology at Growth Summit

October 19, 2023 By    

LP Gas Editor Brian Richesson interviewed propane industry veteran Randy Doyle of Holtzman Propane during breakfast on the second morning of the LP Gas Growth Summit. Doyle addressed hydronic, tankless water heating technology – called the Heat Pump Helper – that allows propane retailers to convert homes with electric heat pumps to dual-fuel space heating systems. The hydronic technology serves as a backup space heating source, replacing the electric heat strip when temperatures drop and the heat pump can’t keep up. The application is designed to help the propane industry protect and grow gallons in the residential market while helping the consumer by lowering their home energy costs and increasing their comfort levels.

Holtzman Propane consultant Randy Doyle, right, answers questions from LP Gas Editor Brian Richesson. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

Holtzman Propane consultant Randy Doyle, right, answers questions from LP Gas Editor Brian Richesson. (Photo by LP Gas staff)

Doyle began by presenting three questions to the audience: 1) What is the propane industry’s response to the electrification movement? 2) How do I grow my residential gallons? 3) What can I take back to my businesses as a result of attending this meeting?

LP Gas: What piqued your interest about this kind of technology?

Doyle: What first piqued my interest was when I was with Blossman [Gas] and I was responsible for the Rinnai relationship. This was in 2012. Rinnai had their hydronic product, which was basically being able to heat the home with hot water, which is a 100-year-old concept. Being able to offer another way to get space-heating gallons in the home should be the prize that we seek. For the last 11 years, I have been persistently pursuing: How do we make this happen? How do we take the idea, the concept where it can be successfully commercialized? It’s been the merit of the concept that has continued to drive my involvement.

LP Gas: Why do you feel the Heat Pump Helper is a direct response to electrification challenges?

Doyle: What I said in the column I wrote for LP Gas is that the Heat Pump Helper was the most important response. There’s a great motto that says when everything is important, nothing is important. If we don’t decide what is most important, it’s not going to get the attention that it deserves.

No. 1: You can argue that ground zero for the electrification movement is the residential market. That is where the climate change activists are attacking first. We’ve seen it where they’re going after the gas stove, and we see it now where there are huge incentives from the federal government to take out your gas. We see these gas bans. All of that is affecting the residential market.

No. 2: The technology and the application [are] ready now.

No. 3: In our response to the electrification movement, we have two great constituents that we must tap into. No. 1 is the propane marketer. Every propane marketer will say the residential market is my most important market. We as an industry will be most effective in responding to the electrification movement as we engage propane marketers in this fight. The other important constituent we have in this fight is the propane consumer. There are 12 million homes in this country that use propane. Many of these homeowners don’t like it that they are having their energy choice taken away. Our solution, the Heat Pump Helper, is a far better solution to what we’re trying to do. When the electric heat strip kicks on in the home, energy costs go up four times. It’s like heating your house with a toaster oven. Our competitor has a weak spot, and we must address that weak spot.

The issues with electrification [are] grid resilience, energy costs and comfort. As a nation, we’re blindly going down this path to electrify. What we’re attempting to do with this is to feed into this heat pump proliferation. We can’t stop it, but we can have a response to it, and all the while we can help them with this solution.

[Audience member makes a comment about the technology]

Doyle: The Heat Pump Helper is using hot water – you have the tankless water heater and the power of  that 199,000-Btu [unit]. You basically connect the tankless. There’s the hydronic coil, and it integrates with whatever the HVAC manufacturer is. You pull that heat strip out and put in the hydronic coil. It fits right into the air handler. Then you’ve got the pump and the controller. It takes about a half-day to install. It provides another option. And if you like to sell tankless water heaters, it sweetens the pot to put in a tankless water heater because now you can say [to the customer] that not only can you heat your water with this technology, you can heat your home with this technology. We have simplified the install as much as possible.

LP Gas: We talk about this being a versatile application. This can work with any water heating source – is that right, Randy?

It can work with any water heating source. And because the hydronic coil fits right into the air handler, the manufacturer [of the coil], their niche is to integrate with any HVAC manufacturer, so you’re good to go.

LP Gas: Can you talk about what you’ve done with pilot projects and where they are now?

Doyle: We were focused on technicians in the propane industry. We now have three of our technicians with it in their home, and we also have an owner of a retailer of manufactured homes. The feedback, the affirmation is positive. We learned some valuable lessons with the old procurement of the equipment and the installation. We’ve learned enough from the pilot to now perfect it, so that when you order all these pieces, it comes in a box and it’s all nicely packed. And there’s enough knowledge out there to be able to support it. It’s not that tough technically of an installation. So Holtzman is going to continue to expand it, and I know Blossman Gas is really beginning to run with it. We’re looking to get members of the Virginia Propane Gas Association to say sign me up.

[Audience member asks about the cost]

Doyle: It’s about $5,000. We’re looking at a three-year payback for a typical customer because we’re going to save on their energy costs; plus they’re going to get the comfort factor.

[Audience member asks about the outside temperature range to initiate the system]

Doyle: Some say 40 [degrees]; some say 35. It can also become a primary source of heat.

LP Gas: How can propane marketers get involved with this today?

Doyle: To say I’m going to learn more. The residential market is important to every single person in this room. This is space heating, which is the best gallon, and this is addressing the gallon that is under the most attack. If the residential market is important to you, if you’re concerned about having an application that is going to be responding to this electrification movement, do not walk out of here saying that was a good idea, but I’m not going to do anything.

LP Gas: How can propane marketers go about identifying where these opportunities are within their territories?

Doyle: The easiest place to start is if you have an employee who has a heat pump, and they have a heat strip, and they have a tankless water heater. And if there is somebody who is passionate about propane, and they’re saying, “Yeah, I’ll try it. I’ll be the first one.” We have incentives to help them with the adoption. Employees want to use our own product.

LP Gas: What is the timeline for that one-button commercialization process?

Doyle: It’s here now. If there’s someone saying I want to try it, we’re ready. The time is now, the threat is now, the opportunity is now, the solution is now.

LP Gas: Who are the key partners involved?

Doyle: There’s a support network of those who have done it. We have Armistead Mauck, who is contracted with PERC. We have Rinnai, who is developing the controller. We have Bindus, who has been doing this for 30 years. The state associations should take this on as a project as well.

[Audience member asks about geographic areas where the technology fits best and about state rebates]

Doyle: Clearly New England, where electricity prices are off the charts and it’s cold. And New England is where they’re having the biggest – and New York – the biggest push for electrification. We can be a part of that solution. Pretty much anywhere that gets cold and there are lots of heat pumps.

As far as rebates and incentives, we are on the front edge of that. North Carolina is doing something; Virginia is doing something. There’s a certain amount of competitiveness, but there’s also a learning from each other. We want to make the incentives as an early adopter for the industry – let’s help that person to make that decision to take that first step. There’s not a national rebate program yet, but I think there should be. This is right in our wheelhouse.

LP Gas: Just to clarify, Randy, this still can be used anywhere in the country, anywhere that has a heat pump?

Doyle: Yes, and that they’re going to need a backup for their heat pump.

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About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at brichesson@northcoastmedia.net or 216-706-3748.

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