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Gas crisis driving heat pump boom in Europe, IEA says

The biggest growth rates were reported in the European Union, where heat pump sales rose by 35%, according to the IEA’s special report on “The Future of Heat Pumps”, published on Wednesday (30 November).

And the trend looks set to continue, with Poland, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria seeing sales growth double in the first half of 2022 – roughly twice the amount seen over the same period last year.

Falling gas deliveries from Russia are acting as a catalyst for heat pump deployment in the bloc, where governments agreed on plans to cut Russian imports by two-thirds this year and bring them down to zero “well before 2030”.

Looking forward, annual heat pump sales in Europe could rise to seven million by 2030 – up from two million in 2021 – if governments hit their climate and energy goals, the report said.

“In the past, clean energy options were supported for climate-related reasons,” explained Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director.

“But today, the biggest driver of heat pumps, of solar, of wind power, or electric cars in Europe is energy security. So the driver has changed. And energy security is now the main driver,” he told EURACTIV in an interview.

Heating buildings today represent one-third of EU gas demand, according to the IEA. Heat pumps could reduce that demand by nearly seven billion cubic metres (bcm) in 2025 – equivalent to the amount of gas supplied via the Trans Adriatic Pipeline last year, it said.

“As a result of this crisis, we are suffering from higher energy prices,” Birol acknowledged. “But at the same time, it does accelerate the clean energy transition for both energy security and climate reasons”.

According to the IEA report, heat pumps are an indispensable part of any plan to cut emissions and natural gas use because they are hyper-efficient, climate-friendly and help consumers reduce energy consumption.

And contrary to widespread belief, the technology is tried and tested, even in the coldest climates. “In Norway, 60% of buildings are equipped with heat pumps, with Sweden and Finland at over 40%, undercutting the argument that heat pumps are unsuitable for cold climates,” the report says.

The main obstacles today are related mainly to the high upfront cost of installation, and supply chain bottlenecks, including a shortage of semiconductors used in the manufacturing of heat pumps.

Speaking to EURACTIV, Birol said he had two recommendations for EU governments to address this. “The first challenge with heat pumps is the cost of capital,” which is an obstacle, particularly for low-income families. He said governments should offer “direct support” to households and ensure it comes with minimum bureaucracy.

His second recommendation is to improve skills and training for installers. “There is a lack of skilled workers – technicians, electricians,” Birol said. Governments should offer training or upskilling courses of “maximum three months” to installers, he added.

Europe’s booming demand for heat pumps exposes bottlenecks

Sky-high gas prices have sent demand for heat pumps booming across Europe, exposing a range of bottlenecks limiting industry’s ability to deliver, including a shortage of skilled labour, as well as the need to simultaneously insulate buildings to ensure maximum efficiency.

Ban on new gas boilers as of 2025

Birol also backed moves to discourage the installation of new gas boilers. In Germany, for instance, new fossil heating systems will be banned as of 2024.

“There is a need not only to provide incentive for the heat pumps, but also a disincentive for the other technologies” that use fossil fuels, Birol agreed. “So from that point of view, a European-wide ban can be well considered by the European policymakers,” he told EURACTIV.

“I think 2025 is the right time” for a ban, he added, referring to IEA research published last year, which said no new fossil fuel boilers should be sold globally from that date if the world is to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century.

On the industry’s side, the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) welcomed the IEA report. “We hope the message is heard by the EU and countries around the world and is followed by rapid action on the ground,” said Thomas Nowak, secretary general of EHPA.

In Europe, companies like Viessmann are busy trying to keep up with booming demand and addressing supply chain bottlenecks. Germany, for instance, is aiming to install 500,000 heat pumps per year as of 2024, which requires ramping up production on an unprecedented scale.

“We have fully embraced the unprecedented momentum in the markets: Viessmann plans to invest €1 billion to contribute to the EU goal of installing 10 million new hydronic heat pumps by 2027,” said Alix Chambris, Viessmann’s vice-president for global public affairs and sustainability.

According to Viessmann, the next few years will be critical. “The millions of new heat pumps must be top-performing, highly efficient and sustainable,” Chambris said, referring to natural refrigerants that can be used to replace climate warming F-gases in heat pumps.

Chambris also insisted that supporting households in financing the shift towards renewable heating “will be crucial for success”.

Source : Euractiv