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Heat pumps lead the way in alternative heating in Europe and JapanNovember 2007

There has never been a better time for heat pumps to become established in the hydronic heating market in Europe. Higher oil and gas prices throughout 2005 and 2006 have certainly played a major role to sway consumers' attitude towards adopting renewable technologies as a way to reduce their energy bills. They are also wanting to play their share in the fight against global warming and its dire impact on the planet.

European and national legislation to cut greenhouse gases, together with regulation for energy-efficient buildings such EPBD (European Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) has become a major issue coupled with a desire to reduce dependence on oil imports by some governments such as Sweden. In its 2007 publication on alternative heating technologies, BSRIA analyses the key markets for electric heat pumps and solar water heating with most focus on Europe, Japan, North America, China and Australia.

However, the picture is not even across Europe. Apart from Sweden and Switzerland, heat pumps are not quite established as an alternative heating technology. Although there has been double-digit growth in Germany, France, Austria, Ireland, and Czech Republic among others, sales in most other markets such the Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK are still marginal.

While the European market is largely oriented towards space heating, the provision of sanitary hot water is also becoming popular. More manufacturers from Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France (and now Italian boiler suppliers and Australian players) are increasingly selling this type of low output usually below 5kW, air to water heat pumps (exhaust air type) that can provide sanitary hot water.

The European market for air to water heat pumps is expected to see the strongest growth over the next five years and become mainstream products in some key countries, due to their ease of installation into existing properties and their low costs compared with ground source heat pumps. Sweden is by far the largest market for ground source heat pumps but growth is expected to slow to around 5-7% per annum, mainly due to limitations on housing construction. Germany and France have witnessed spectacular growth in the last year.

Other renewable technologies for water heating:
Apart from electric heat pumps, gas engine heat pumps (GEHP) are mostly sold in the commercial market in Japan followed by South Korea. However, the technology is becoming available in Europe and sales are increasing. The markets with potential growth in Italy, Germany, UK and Spain.

As for the market for micro-CHP applications so far there have been mixed fortunes in this category. The technology is most established in Japan with micro-CHP gas engine system supplied by Honda. However, in Europe previous announcements for commercial sales prior to 2006 have been muted in 2006/7 as boiler manufacturers are concentrating on other renewable growth areas such solar water heating and electrical heat pumps in particular. The magic formula to mass-produce affordable systems that could challenge the future of the boiler industry is still some years ahead. Nonetheless, the industry is poised to test this market in the next two years. Leading European and Japanese boiler companies are already in advanced R&D activities or with units in field trials. As for fuel cell based micro-CHP systems, the high cost is a major barrier hampering commercial launch.

Statistical data in this article is quoted from the World Market for Heat Pumps study. Separate reports are available for Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and UK. For more information on this report please contact Jon Williams at WMI.