More Than 100 Years Old and Still Innovative

By Thomas Nowak, Secretary General, European Heat Pump Association (EHPA)
Winter 2012

Heating, cooling and hot water production with heat pumps.

Today, most people in Europe use heat pump technology in their home, some even own more than one device. Fridges, (car) air conditioning, tumble dryers and heat pumps provide living comfort based on a shared technical principle, i.e. the refrigeration cycle. Its origin and first experimental applications date back from the early 19th century. Heat pumps for residential heating entered the market in the early 20th and it took nearly another hundred years for the technology to achieve meaningful market shares. In 2011, more than 771 000 units were sold in Europe adding to a stock that exceeds 4,55 mio units. Markets like Sweden and Switzerland are maturing.

Heat pumps transform renewable energy from air, water and ground (ambient energy) as well as waste energy into useful heat. They provide heating, hot water and cooling. A heat pump system consists of a heat source, a heat pump unit and a distribution system. A transfer fluid (refrigerant) transports the heat from a low-energy source to a high-energy sink by means of heat exchangers and a compressor. Auxiliary energy (e.g. electricity/gas) is needed to run the unit. As heating and cooling can be provided at the same time, heat pumps are particularly efficient if both services are used. They can be employed in residential and commercial buildings (e.g. schools, hospitals, swimming pools) as well as in industrial applications (e.g. food processing industry).

The benefits: comfort, lower emissions, higher efficiency, more renewables and grid-balancing.
While heat pumps reliably provide heating and cooling services their use has positive side effects to the environment and society:

1. Heat pumps contribute to the three EU 2020 targets at the same time giving them a unique "eco-triple dividend":

  • an increased share of renewables in primary and final energy demand
  • an efficient use of energy, thus lowering (non-renewable) primary and final energy demand
  • reduced particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions (zero emission systems are possible when clean auxiliary energy - wind, PV, hydro, biogas - is used).

2. Heat pump based systems can store thermal energy - either in a hydronic storage, a hydronic heating system, the ground or the buildings core. As the majority of today’s heat pumps need electricity as auxiliary energy source, running them in times of electricity surplus releases stress on electric grids. In times of low electricity supply the heat pump can be switched of and the system will still provide the required service to the end user by using the stored thermal energy. Properly designed and connected, this allows for the balancing of supply and demand in electric grids by the use of thermo-technology. Thus heat pumps are an ideal match to increasing capacity from distributed renewable electricity generation.

Integrating heat pumps in buildings and bridging the differences in supply and demand of both electricity and thermal energy in cities/agglomerations is the real challenge for today. This is where innovation comes into play. Additional research and development is required to identify:

  • necessary modification requirements on the heat pump, the buildings core and the grid
  • the savings potential on both the end consumer and the utility side. What are the cost to realize heat pumps in smart grids or better: is there a business case?
  • the comfort requirements of the end user, both with regards to living comfort and simplicity of service offering
  • necessary standards to interconnect the components of the future smart grid

On a concept level, it is clear that innovate heat pump applications are an integral part of the future energy infrastructure. In principle they are perfectly suitable load shifting. Joint efforts by all stakeholders are required to turn this concept into reality. Policy makers and stakeholders alike are called on to support the technology and market development of heat pumps to unleash this potential. We do not need innovative new technology, we need to use what we have in a more innovative way. Heat pumps stand ready to fulfil this requirement!

The idea of smart cities is getting increasingly popular: The European Commission addresses the issue in the smart cities "track" of its SET plan. Several other stakeholders are working to identify the obstacles towards a more effective and efficient production of energy and are developing solutions to bridge temporal, spatial and temperature level differences in energy supply and demand. One of the most comprehensive approaches is taken by the Danish Energy agency on the island of Bornholm.

This Danish island with its 10.000 inhabitants was picked by the Danish Energy Agency as a unique testing site. In the EcoGrid project a number of technologies is integrated into the electric grid to understand the implications of a high share (larger 50%) wind power. One of the sub-projects focuses at intelligent heat pumps. They are installed in 300-400 buildings with new controls that enable their automated operation based on price signals and weather data. Results from the project will be guide the necessary product, component and controls development.

Impact of heat pumps (all data applies to sales of units in 20 European countries in 2011
Sales of heat pump in 2011 (units): 771 469
Market value (incl. VAT): 6 174 million Euro
Total useful energy provided by heat pumps (Qusable): 8,45 TWh
Energy savings (compared to gas condensing alternative):
   Final: 7,32 TWh, Primary 3,37 TWh
Total useful energy provided by heat pumps (Qusable): 8,45 TWhRenewable energy produced: 5,72 TWh
Greenhouse gas savings: 1,33 Mt

For statistical details consult the "EHPA Outlook 2012", available via For more information contact:
Thomas Nowak
The European Heat Pump Association (EHPA)
+32 24 00 10 17 |