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Can heat pumps ever be “sexy like a Tesla”?

In discussions about decarbonising heat, we often hear people lament that heating just isn't "sexy" enough. A few months ago I was at an event where one of the UK environmental NGOs complained to a room of heating industry professionals that heat pumps are "bl**dy ugly", and don't really offer anything over gas boilers in terms of delivering comfort. Why can't we learn from the likes of Tesla or Apple, they asked, and make a product that offers a superior user experience and looks alright outside our homes?

This got me thinking about how comparable heat pumps are to electric vehicles, and to Teslas in particular. So I looked into the stats, asked the HVAC manufacturers what they thought, and debated the topic with my colleagues. There are certainly some lessons I think we can take from EVs, but there are also fundamental differences between heating and vehicles that we shouldn’t forget. In my view, all this talk of “making heat sexy” is a generally unhelpful distraction from the challenges we really need to address. Here’s why.

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Rebutting some of the myths and challenges about air/air heat pumps in the heating market

In my last blog, I explained why I think now is the time for air/air heat pumps (A/A HP).  There are strong opportunities in the residential heating market in Europe. But in our conversations across the heating and energy industry, we still meet challenges from those not yet engaged in A/A HPs. Here are some of the major myths and challenges we hear - and why we still think A/A HPs should not be ignored.

Challenge #1: “A/AHPs are good for cooling but suboptimal as a primary heating solution”.

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The time is now for air/air heat pumps

The market for air/air heat pumps (A/A HP) has long been established – it is a global, high volume market selling well-tested products, primarily for cooling applications (and therefore usually referred to as ‘air conditioning’). But based on our recent research under the Electrification of Heat Service we believe there is significant untapped potential for A/A HP to be used for residential heating in Europe. In some market segments, A/A HP could even threaten the incumbent hydronic systems.  

So why do we think the stars are aligning for A/A HP right now in the heating market, when the technology has been around for decades? Three reasons:​

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The top takeaways from the European Heat Pump Summit

The European Heat Pump Summit (powered by Chillventa) is always eagerly anticipated by the heat team at Delta-EE. This year was no exception, with a packed agenda discussing the current state of the art in the design of all types of heat pump, and applications spanning from domestic to industrial, from low temperature to high temperature, and using a wide range of refrigerants. Contributions came from further afield than just the EU with India, Japan and China being notable contributors. 

Given the wide range of topics up for discussion, what were the key takeaways? My top three are given below:

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UK heat pump market likely to double by 2025

With the Chancellor’s recent announcement that fossil fuel heating could be banned in all new homes built after 2025, there will no doubt be significant opportunity for low carbon heating into the future. However, while we wait with anticipation for building regulations to be updated, there is still strong potential for growth in UK heat pump market.

Delta-ee recently reviewed the opportunities and barriers for heat pumps to assess how the market is likely to develop over the next few years. Despite the uncertainties surrounding future support for heat pumps after the Renewable Heat Incentive ends in 2021, and the potential negative impacts of Brexit on the heating market (however that might eventually pan out!), our central forecast foresees the UK heat pump market doubling in size by 2025.

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Germany's Heat Pump Market Grew 51% since 2015 – but can the party keep going?

Germany’s hydronic heat pump market has seen a couple of excellent years. Following growth rates of 18% in both 2016 and 2017 the market grew by another 8% in 2018, an increase of 51% over 2015. But is that party coming to an end? Many indicators are pointing in this direction.

Recap: A market both driven and held back by subsidies & regulations

Two factors drove the German heat pump market in the last three years: a change to the building regulations taking effect in 2016 as well as a change in subsidies in 2015. This combination created the perfect storm for heat pumps. But the success may be built on thin ice, as subsidy applications equivalent to 50-80% of all installations were made in 2017.

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