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Reflecting on our predictions for gas heating trends at ISH 2019

Reflecting on our predictions for gas heating trends at ISH 2019 Image from: https://ish.messefrankfurt.com/frankfurt/en.html

ISH 2019 was simply massive: 20,000 steps per day. But the long walk from the fair entrance to and around the main heating exhibits in the new hall 12 was well worth the exertion.

Having had the time to reflect on the week’s announcements, introductions and unveilings – how accurate were our predictions for the showings of companies involved in high-efficiency gas heating?

Prediction #1 – A strong presence of hydrogen

In retrospect ‘strong’ would not be the right word. The theme of hydrogen (H2) or the presence of products designed to produce/run on it were not obvious throughout, but, nevertheless, I would still conclude that H2 products made an impact during the fair.

At the incumbent end of the spectrum, there was BDR Group – Remeha in particular – that stood out from the crowd in terms of having a focus on hydrogen-based heating.

Firstly, not one but two new variants of BDR’s residential fuel cell micro-CHP system were introduced (the other from SenerTec). The company has still to publicly announce which supplier has replaced the Toshiba PEM stack from its earlier generations, although those with an expert eye may well have been able to recognise the fuel cell on display in its House of Innovation section.

From top-left clockwise: The new residential fuel cell units in BDR Thermea’s portfolio with partner TBC. Viessmann/Panasonic’s new ‘add-on’ fuel cell due to launch on 1st April in Germany, and SOLIDpower’s new BG-15 1.5kW unit that’s set for introduction in June. Not pictured: The still-vast and ever-growing range of small-scale internal combustion engine (ICE) micro-CHP products available on the European market. These still far outnumber fuel cells in terms of range of choice and capacity levels.

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The centrepiece here though was Remeha’s hydrogen boiler, which certainly attracted a lot of attention.

Despite no other example of a direct combustion H2 boiler on show (Worcester-Bosch’s decision not to display its own was a bit peculiar) 2019 marked the year that mass-market hydrogen was finally on the agenda at ISH. Time will tell if this will become a permanent and growing fixture, or if pure H2 boilers will follow the trend of, for example, gas heat pumps – which appeared then promptly disappeared from most heating giants’ booths during the last decade.

A couple of new entrants at the start-up end showcased their all-in-one H2 heating solutions for off-grid households; complimentary offerings to what would be a mass-market Remeha hydrogen boiler.

Solenco Power (Belgium) displayed its H2 ‘Powerbox’ – a device containing a fuel cell, electrolyser and catalytic boiler (flameless combustion) which runs on a mixture of air and the hydrogen which it self-generates from solar PV.

And similarly, Home Power Systems (Germany) talked visitors through the installer-friendly modular H2 system it has produced (this one without a catalytic or a conventional burner for back-up heating). Neither units are on commercial sale yet but are at the business end of the TRL scale with some early units shipping to selected customers.

Left: Remeha’s wall-hung pure hydrogen central heating boiler. Other graphics surrounding the display described the several trials the system has already been installed for in the Netherlands. Right: Example of a hydrogen-powered 100% self-sufficient energy system from Solenco (Belgium).

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Prediction #2 – Aesthetically-pleasing boilers with appealing customer interfaces

LCD touch-screens were among the main new features from the major boiler brands, exemplified in the photo* of Vaillant’s product below.

Viessmann has gone even further. It’s redesigned Vitodens boilers have a visible ‘heartbeat’ – an LED health bar/status indicator positioned underneath the touch screen. On a good day I can imagine the gentle ‘everything’s OK’ pulse would be quite cool.  And in the event of a fault – indicated by a change to blinking lights – users will at least be reassured that a unique error code will already have been sent directly to their installer.

Outside of the new HMIs (human-machine interfaces) though, the aesthetics of most new boilers were largely unchanged – with brands retaining the sleek, simple white casings (Buderus being the exception what with its glass fronts and rounded edges). More changes were actually made on the insides.

But overall with regards to boilers, the main messages key players wanted to get across is how they continue to use connectivity to make life easier for their loyal installers – as indicated above in the Viessmann example.

Finding customers, diagnostic capabilities and fault-fixing, ordering spare parts – even automatically applying for the German grant to supplement hydraulic balancing of the heating system – is arguably where the really impactful innovations were focussed. Very pleasing from the point of view of an installer customer.

Left: Vaillant’s brand new ecoTEC exclusive boiler with all the ease of use-centric improvements. Right: The company explains how through connection to its app, an installer can perform a hydraulic system balance and then generate the proof needed for the Ministry to release the grant which supports this activity.

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And it should be noted just how many products and boiler brands were on show – too many to count. If Germany continues to set the trend for the heating market across the rest of Europe, we can expect at least one more generation of installations dominated by high-efficiency boilers.

Prediction #3 – A renewed interest in gas heat pumps

A close call here. On the one hand, we didn’t get a glimpse of one highly-anticipated unit that’s going to be “unlike anything seen before”! Fingers crossed for Mostra next year.

On the other hand, there was still a fair showing from gas heat pump (GHP) products which, when combined, served to emphasise the range of applications the technology can fit in to.

A larger gas engine-driven heat pump (Schwank/Panasonic), a ground-source-coupled gas engine HP (Yanmar), a soon-to-be-launched ammonia-water pair absorption GHP (Heliotherm/E-Sorp) and standard-style absorption GHP (Remeha) were the product highlights here.

From top-left clockwise: absorption GHPs from E-Sorp (residential unit) and Remeha (commercial) and gas engine-driven heat pumps from Schwank/Panasonic and Yanmar’s new unit.

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Top-takeaway from the event

If I had to pick one macro trend I would go with the observation that ISH 2019 highlighted how the European heating industry is still undergoing evolution – not revolution – but definitely evolution at an increasing rate than we have seen for most of the last decade.

Again, it’s difficult to not reference Viessmann as an example to back this point up. From the range of examples given above to the revelation, at least to me, that Viessmann is among the newest entrants to the energy supplier market in Germany – no longer just a heating company but “a solutions provider” – points to some interesting years ahead in the lead up to ISH 2021.

Look out for further insights from my colleagues that will focus on their observations from the electric heating and heat pump side of the market, coming very shortly.

If you want to learn more about Delta-ee’s coverage of the high-efficiency gas heating space, contact me for further information on our research here.

* Note none of the products shown are to scale; photographs are for illustrative purposes only.

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