Chinese Manufacturers of Hot Water Heat Pumps – Rising Stars
This is the third article in a series of five that shines light on some highlights from our study on domestic hot water heat pumps (DHW HPs), recently published as part of our Heat Pump Research Service. For more information on the study or the Service please contact me or my colleague Lindsay Sugden.
When talking to contacts in the industry about Chinese heat pump manufacturers, two observations are commonplace: Chinese products are cheaper than European ones, but also of lesser quality than the average European product. But are they really of lesser quality? When looking at domestic hot water heat pumps I would certainly disagree.
During our research we have come across a multitude of DHW HP systems of Chinese origin – some of these show that they can at least equal European products in terms of quality.
Take Midea’s 200L & 300L units for example: The Chinese appliance manufacturer’s systems are currently not sold under its own brand in Europe, but their products are packaged by some of the European industry’s biggest names - Bosch Thermotechnik is selling them in the US, Nibe via its subsidiary KNV in Austria and Danfoss under its own brand in France. In France the systems are sold by at least four other companies. We even consider Altech, a house brand of Saint-Gobain Building Distribution, to be amongst the top five in the French DHW HP market. The fact that major European brands are confident enough to be selling the Midea product is a clear indication that the quality must be sufficient.
In Switzerland – a market known for its emphasis on quality products – the Chinese system sold by the distributor and packager Kibernetik has been awarded the Swiss Heat Pump Federation’s Quality Seal. According to the company there is also no remarkable difference in the number of breakdowns between the systems of Chinese and European manufacture.
Then consider the Polish DHW HP market – one of the fastest growing in Europe, and already dominated by Chinese products. The Polish market leader, Hewalex, is selling a Chinese system. The performances – at least anecdotally – are good enough to give end-users running cost savings against solid fuel systems.
Yet the performance evidence is not only anecdotal. Based on European test standards the Chinese products compete very well with European ones. The 300L Midea system reaches COPs of 2.98 (EN 16147, tap cycle L) and 3.6 (EN 255-3). Kibernetik’s system reaches efficiencies of 2.9 (EN 16147, tap cycle XL) and 3.3 (EN 255-3) – certified by the HP test centre Buchs - WPZ. This places both units well amongst the more efficient half of systems currently on the European market.
All the above shows that Chinese DHW HPs are not only competitive on prices (they have contributed to a considerable decrease in DHW HP prices in France over the last few years) but that they also compete with the average European manufactured DHW HP on efficiency.
But what does this mean for the European manufacturers?
Over the short term this development is not something to worry the day-to-day business. Continuing growth of the sector will allow most players in the market to further increase their sales. Low price but good quality OEM systems of Chinese origin will also allow European manufacturers who do not have their own systems to gain traction in the market until they have developed their own technology.
In the long run I think this will change significantly. With the Chinese Government having identified heat pumps and air conditioning systems as a key area for industry growth, the country’s manufacturers will certainly not play the role of OEMs forever. Once they start setting up their own distribution networks in Europe the threat to the European manufacturers is going to be of an entirely different order of magnitude than it is now. European manufacturers have to be aware of this and prepare their strategies.