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What is a heat pump and how do they work?

October 20 2015, 09:35 AM

What is a heat pump and how do they work?

Heat pumps are a hot topic in New Brunswick these days, and with good reason.  A heat pump that is ENERGY STAR certified, CEE Tier III rated cold climate (-20°C and lower) can save you, on average, 40% more on heating costs than a model that is simply ENERGY STAR rated. Those numbers are pretty enticing for any homeowner to hear!

But what exactly is a heat pump and how does it work?

Put simply: a heat pump is an extremely efficient method of heating and cooling for your home. In the winter, heat pumps draw in outside air and extract heat for the home. In the summer they do the same but remove heat from the inside and dump it outside instead, giving you air conditioning.

With electric baseboards you pay for 1 kWh of electricity and you get 1 kWh of heat.  That sounds pretty good – 100% efficient.  But what if you could heat your home with something that is 200% or 300% efficient?  That is the case with ductless heat pumps. 

When you buy 1kWh of heat you can actually get 2kWh or 3kWh of heat.  That’s because heat pumps do not generate heat from electricity.  They use the electricity to extract heat from the outside air and bring it into your home, using a series of pumps and compressors.

There are two kinds of air-source heat pumps: ducted and ductless.

Fully-ducted heat pumps heat and cool the whole home via air ducts, whereas ductless (also known as mini-split) heat pumps heat and cool single rooms only. Ducted heat pumps sit outside the home, while ductless units are found on the inside and outside wall of a home.  A heating contractor will help you determine which system is the best fit for your home and its layout.

In our climate, with its chilly ‘shoulder’ seasons (fall and spring) and cold winters, there aren’t many drawbacks to having a home with a heat pump. But you do need to keep your current heat source, just in case the temperature becomes extremely cold and the heat pump can no longer work efficiently.

Even before you install a heat pump, it is a good idea to consider your home’s energy efficiency. You’ll want to check insulation levels throughout your home and make sure it is well sealed for air-tightness. With well insulated walls, attic and basement and a high level of airtightness, your home will need less energy to heat or cool and it will stay that way for longer, no matter what type of heating system you have.

Check out our ductless mini-split heat pump rebate program or our home insulation savings program to learn how they can help you save energy and money on your bills this winter.

Would you install a heat pump in your home? Tell us about it in the comments below. 

Mactaquac Mythbusters

October 15 2015, 14:28 PM

Mactaquac Mythbusters

We’ve been excited to see the great questions and comments rolling in from New Brunswickers since we kicked off the public discussion about the future of the Mactaquac Generating Station on September 21.

We hope to hear even more about what’s important to New Brunswickers through our online survey, and and during the remainder of our open house events. We hope you’ll drop by to learn more and tell us what you think about the project.

The situation

The station has been generating hydroelectric power for New Brunswick since 1968. It’s now expected to reach the end of its life by 2030. That’s sooner than expected because of problems with the facility’s concrete.

There are already many experts thinking about how to tackle Mactaquac, and there are three options to consider:

1)      We could build a new generating station.

2)      We could stop making power but leave the dam in place.

3)      We could remove everything and allow the river to return to its natural flow.

There are lots of great questions coming our way, and some Mactaquac Myths have already surfaced. We want to bust those myths here.

The Myths

NB Power has already made up its mind about what’s happening with that station. My opinions don’t matter at all!”

Not true. We understand this is a big decision that will affect all New Brunswickers for generations to come. That’s why we’re asking you to share what’s most important to you about this decision online, in person and in writing before recommending a preferred option in 2016.

NB Power has a secret ‘fourth option’ they aren’t telling us about.”

Some media outlets have referred to our work to try to delay the 2030 end-of-service-life deadline as a ‘fourth option for Mactaquac.’ We are working with independent experts to see if we can extend the station’s ability to generate power beyond 2030 through a potential new game plan to deal with the concrete issues. This work isn’t complete yet, so we don’t know if these are ideas that can work from either a financial or engineering perspective. Meanwhile, even with this work underway, it’s important that we continue investigating implications of the three broad options so we can get everything done in time for the current 2030 deadline.

"The problems with the concrete means the dam isn’t safe."

The station and the dam are safe. The issues affecting the station’s lifespan are limiting its future ability to operate economically. This problem is about economical function rather than safety. Also, the issues only affect the concrete portions of the station, which don’t include the dam, which is made of rock and earth.

Tell us what you think!

We welcome all questions and comments about the project. You can learn more about the project and give us your feedback by visiting our project website. We hope you’ll also complete the online survey and share it with your friends and neighbours! You can also comment below.

From time to time we’ll use this blog space to answer persistent questions or themes about the project as they come up.


Outages: How NB Power gets your lights back on

September 30 2015, 11:39 AM

Outages: How NB Power gets your lights back on

Sometimes when bad weather happens, power outages do too. When an unplanned power outage happens, our goal is to restore your power as quickly and safely as possible. Unfortunately, we can’t restore every customer at the same time.

Make sure we know your power is out by calling us at 1 800 663 6272 or by entering either your phone number or account number in our report an outage feature on our mobile site.

In storms, NB Power crews must wait until the weather clears before they can begin to assess the damage. This means it can take some time to provide accurate estimates of when you can expect to get your power back.

In some cases, crews can restore power sooner than what we had estimated. However, in severe weather, the cause of the power outage may be difficult to locate, hard to  access, or there may be more than one cause  so the repairs may take longer.

How we set priorities for power restoration

  • We start by looking at how electricity is supplied  and repair damage to power plants, transmission lines and substations

  • We restore power to critical services such as hospitals, nursing homes, emergency responders,  water supply and communication systems.

  • We make repairs that will return service to the largest amount of customers in the least amount of time, such as high-density housing and large neighbourhoods.

  • We restore power to smaller neighbourhoods and individual customers.

Let’s dive down a little further into how we restore power with this video.

What causes power outages?

There are many reasons the power to homes or business might go out, including causes that are both in and out of our control. We work hard every year to reduce the number of outages by investing in new technologies, equipment upgrades and replacements, and tree trimming to help guarantee our grid’s reliability

But outages can, and do, still happen. Here are some of the causes for power outages in New Brunswick:

  • The most common cause of outages are weather issues like lightning strikes, heavy snow or ice buildup on lines and equipment, high winds, hurricanes or other extreme weather. High winds can also cause trees and branches to contact  power lines.

  • Non weather-related causes include  motor vehicle accidents, nearby construction and aging equipment that needs replacing.

  • Sometimes, we have to make repairs to a substation, switchyard or switching station, which can also cause temporary outages. NB Power has 97 substations, terminals and switchyards that take power from the transmission system and convert it to a voltage that will work in your home. If an outage starts at a substation, it’s usually because a specific piece of equipment needs repairs, because wildlife got into the station, or it was vandalized.

What types of outages are there?

Sometimes you will hear us refer to a transmission or a distribution outage which are two different things, though each affects your home or business in the same way. Transmission outages often affect a larger number of customers (more than a thousand), while distribution outages are smaller in number.

When we say we’re experiencing a transmission outage, it means electricity is being interrupted somewhere along the 6,849 km of high voltage transmission lines that travel across the forests of New Brunswick and connect our communities.

When one of these outages happens, our crews often have to travel long distances either by ground or air patrols to find the issue, which can take some time. Once they find the problem, they can often bring power back to some customers by re-routing electricity through neighboring power lines and substations. But those customers who are in the direct path of the issue usually can’t be re-routed, and will have to wait until repairs are made. 

Our distribution system delivers power directly to homes and businesses. New Brunswick has 20,815 km of distribution lines. That’s the same distance as driving from Fredericton to Vancouver Island 3.5 times.

You see these lines along streets or connecting to homes in back lots. When this kind of outage happens, NB Power crews can usually fix the problem quickly, unless it happens in a major storm and there are many localized outages caused by multiple issues. Sometimes distribution outages can still take a while to repair, like when a line or pole needs to be repaired or replaced.

What you can do to be safe during an outage

  • If a tree has fallen onto a power line near you and is causing an outage, please don’t attempt to remove it yourself- always assume the line is still energized.

  • If you see a downed power line, call us immediately at 1 800-663-6272 and stay at a safe distance from it and anything it may be touching, including puddles of water and fences.

  • If you or a family member has special medical equipment that requires power to operate, please make sure we know about you so we can get to you quickly.

  • If you have a generator, make sure you have a certified electrician install it to code- this will help keep your home and our line workers safe. Make sure you never use a generator indoors (this includes garages & other enclosed areas.) A generator’s engine exhaust gives off Carbon Monoxide (CO), which is a colorless, odourless and deadly gas. Only operate them in areas where the exhaust can’t enter your home through windows or doors.

  • Turn off all tools, appliances and home electronic equipment and turn your thermostats down to avoid load issues or fire hazard when power is restored.


Find more tips for preparing your home for weather-related power outages in our emergency guide.

5 best ways renters can save energy (and money!)

September 23 2015, 15:24 PM

5 best ways renters can save energy (and money!)

Just because you don’t own your home, doesn’t mean you don’t have control over your energy use.

There are many ways renters can reduce their electricity use. If you make these small changes around your home, you could start to see a big change on your electricity bill. If these tips fit in with your lifestyle and schedule, try them out to start saving! 

  1. Don’t overheat:

    Try to keep your room temperature at 20
    °Cwhen you’re home.  Lowering your room temperature by 4°C while sleeping and before you leave the house (only if you’ll be gone for a few hours) is the best way to save on heat

    Renters tip:

    There are still lots of thermostats out there that can be off by as much as 3 – 5° C. To help you find out if your thermostat is showing the right temperature, hang an inexpensive thermometer on the wall next to your thermostat. It will tell you what the temperature inside your room is. Set your thermostat to match what your thermometer says to stop overheating. 

  1. Use plastic window kits:

    Plastic window kits are an inexpensive way to increase the performance of any window.  They will help keep the heat in and prevent condensation and frost from forming on the glass during the winter months. 

    Renters tip:

    Lay a strip of blue paint tape down first, and then apply the tape that comes with the plastic. That way it's easy to remove and won’t tear away the paint when you remove it in the spring!


  1. Limit hot water use:

    Taking short showers, especially when using a low flow showerhead, uses a lot less water than taking a bath. 

    Renters tip:

    Use a dollar store egg timer to help you limit your showers to 10 minutes. If each person in your house does this every day, the savings will add up. You can even turn it into a competition with your roommates to see who can shower the quickest!
  1. Turn it off:

    Turn off any light or appliance you’re not using. It’s the easiest way to save money on your power bill.  If it's not in use, turn it off. 

    Renters Tip:

    Plug computer equipment and home entertainment devices (like sound systems, television, DVD player and digital receivers) into a single power bar. If you do this, you can turn off all these devices at once to keep them from drawing phantom load when they’re not in use.

    Remember to unplug devices like laptop, phone and camera chargers once the device is charged.

  1. Change it up:

    If you are shopping for a new appliance or an electronic device, look for products displaying the ENERGY STAR® symbol.  ENERGY STAR® certified products are in the top 15-30% of their class in terms of energy performance.

    Renters Tip:

    You can also swap out incandescent light bulbs for ENERGY STAR® qualified light bulbs (CFL or LED). These light bulbs use up to 75% less energy than regular incandescent bulbs

What have you done to save energy in your rental? Do you have any special tricks for saving energy? Share it with us in our comment section below.


My EV story: David Alston

September 16 2015, 10:41 AM

My EV story: David Alston

On Saturday, September 19, New Brunswick electric vehicle owners will show their cars off on Queen Street in Fredericton as part of our electric car show during the Harvest Jazz and Blues festival. One of those car owners is David Alston, a local tech entrepreneur and mentor.

Here’s David’s EV story.

When I first took a test drive of the Volt at the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas back in March of 2011 I fell in love with its tech and its promise to reduce the carbon footprint of driving. 

It was a chance for Chevy to showcase it's green offering to thousands of gadget loving, social media types that would hopefully gladly share their experience on Facebook, Twitter and the like. I was impressed with the approach and the car. So much so that I wanted to know how to get my hands on the first one shipped to New Brunswick when it would roll out in Canada the following year. 

With deposit in hand, I marched down to my local Chevrolet dealer and got in the queue. But it's interesting how much time and branding can have an effect on you. 

With the 18-month wait, I gradually started to forget the experience and I started to worry about my choice. You see, my previous experience with General Motors cars had been driving some 10 year old Olds and Buicks back in my final years at university. Those cars had been on their last legs, to be fair, but the experience had pushed me hard toward buying Japanese brands as soon as I graduated, and I hadn't wavered from that choice for over 20 years. 

I eventually caved and retrieved my deposit. I chickened out.

But it happened that a couple of colleagues of mine had also placed themselves in the queue and were the first in our area to receive a shiny new blue Volt. They drove it to and from work with pride, bragging that after months of ownership they still had the same gas in the gas tank as when they purchased it - they were nearly able to drive solely on electric charges! Now that's an awesome stat. 

My interest peaked once again and I asked if they minded if I could take it for a test drive after work one day. The feeling came back and I was sold.  

At the time, the Canadian dollar was trading at par with the US so I decided I'd look for a one year old Volt in the US and import it. I still remember seeing it for the first time all shined up in the bay of World Class Auto. 

With an electric engine, the acceleration is instant and smooth and all I heard was the tires on the road as we turned on to the road for the premier test drive. This is a car built solid and with a suspension that seems to float on air and the trim inside was as nice as any luxury vehicle on the market. I was very pleased with my new mode of transportation.

While the Volt comes with a regular 110V charger that would easily fully charge the vehicle overnight I decided to purchase a 220V charger from Sun Country Highway for around $500 and have my local electrician install it in my garage- it took maybe 15 minutes to install. I wanted to have the option of a 4-hour quick charge as we make regular trips to and from the city to pick up and drop off the kids for their activities etc...  We can sometimes even drive to and from town twice on a single charge if we watch our speeds and acceleration and take advantage of the regenerative braking. 

Keep in mind, a single charge takes 10 kw/h of power or costs roughly about $1.12 at today’s power rates. I can go for about 55 to 70 kms on a charge depending on the terrain during the summer and 35 to 50 kms in the winter - cold affects batteries in the winter and these cars also use more power for the heaters. Either way, I figure that for a $1.12 I am generally going at least 3 times the distance of a typical gas only car and paying 3 times less!

What's also cool is that electric engines don't need oil changes. Only the backup gas powered motor/generator built into it does, so I generally only get one oil change per year.  

The Volt also runs on gas when the charge of the batteries runs out. The switch over is not noticeable other than the quiet whir of the generator now running in the background. This feature extends the range of the Volt by another 550 kms. Yes, that means you drive the Volt just like any other vehicle but with the option of driving electric when it's charged up. 

We've done return trips to New Hampshire, New York and PEI in the Volt, of course mostly using the gas engine. 

It's what I love about the Volt - it's as economical as you can get for commuting but still has all the stuff of a regular car for road trips.

Meet David and other electric vehicle owners from 12-5pm during the car show on Queen Street in Fredericton. You can also find out what it’s like to drive an electric vehicle during the EV test drive from 12-pm as well.

If you can’t make it, but have questions about EV’s for David, you can find him on Twitter @davidalston.