Tony Bouza

Few of us own something we helped commercialize. The heat-pump water heater in Tony Bouza’s house started as an idea in a funding application from General Electric (GE) that landed on Bouza’s desk in 2009. Bouza and his team at the Building Technologies Office (BTO) knew they had to invest in its development. (Heat pumps use electricity to move heat from one location to another, making them far more efficient than fossil fuels.)

In the early 2000s, most heat-pump water heaters were available only by mail order, but GE wanted to put its heat-pump water heaters in home-improvement stores and in plumbers’ trucks. Bouza bought his at Sears and installed it himself in 2011 with his father, a plumber.

"That heat-pump water heater started a ripple effect," Bouza says, because "competitors weren't going to let GE have all the fun.... It acted as a catalyst to move the market, and that's what the Department of Energy should do."

Bouza in heat pump Halloween costume
Bouza dressed up as a heat pump for Halloween.

Bouza really likes heat pumps. He had a fantasy football team called the BTO Heat Pumpers. He has dressed up as a heat pump for Halloween. His coworkers nicknamed him Tony Heat Pump. He thinks 2022 is going to be the “year of the heat pump,” passing sales of furnaces for the first time. (Sales reports will be available in 2023.)

“I’ve worked on all heat pumps—air source, ground source, heat pump dishwashers and clothes dryers—you name it, I’ve worked on it,” he says. “Heat pumps are reliable, save energy, and provide impacts you can actually see.

“If you’re going to make an impact on climate, you must address HVACs [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems] and water heating, and heat pumps are it! It’s a known solution. We don’t have to invent it. They’re good today and will only get better over time.”

In other words, Bouza does not want people to wait for the next generation of heat pumps to adopt the technology.

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“Combustion of fossil fuel is not ideal. Why are we burning fuel to deliver comfort when it results in a 400 degree-plus temperature? We should be able to use technology to deliver comfort efficiently without emissions from combustion. We have to be good stewards when it comes to federal funds but also to our natural resources.”

Bouza’s interest in heat pumps sparked in high school, when he learned that they move heat to keep buildings warm or cool. By then, he knew he wanted to be an engineer because he liked taking things apart and figuring out how they work. When his physics teacher mentioned Carnot’s efficiency equation, it changed everything. 

“I said, ‘Wow, there’s a simple equation that dictates how efficiently you can move heat!’” he recalls. “For me, it’s all about efficiency. We need renewable energy to power our lives, but we need energy efficiency too. We need both, to solve our climate challenges.”

The next step may be HVAC equipment that has direct air capture technology. “These are usually big facilities that pull carbon dioxide out of the air. Heat pumps already move air to provide heating and cooling, so we’re trying to get a twofer: Let’s take out moisture and carbon dioxide from the air at the same time.”

Bouza has been with EERE for over 20 years and says working in energy efficiency is his dream. He finds fulfillment doing more with less.

“We can’t be wasteful because we have a limited amount of resources. I remember seeing pictures of the blue marble image of Earth as child and thinking wow earth is super precious. I am doing my best to save the world with heat pumps. You should too.”