Thomas Nowak has more than 15 years of experience in the field of renewable energy. Currently, he is responsible for the management and development of the Brussels-based European Heat Pump Association (EHPA), an industry lobby group with more than 110 members. He is also a board member of the EU Renewable Heating and Cooling Platform and a contributor to scientific publications including the IEA energy technology perspectives and the REN21 Renewables Global Status Report.
Thomas holds a degree in business administration from the University of Paderborn, Germany.
EHPA advocates for heat pumps to be acknowledged as a technology that is key to achieving Europe’s climate and energy goals. How significant a contribution can heat pumps make to the achievement of these goals?
Heat pump technology uses renewable energy to provide heating, hot water and cooling. The use of heat pumps replaces non-renewable/fossil energy sources and thus reduces the related emissions. The technology can be applied across Europe both for residential and commercial buildings. Heat pumps can also provide process heat for industrial applications.
In addition, heat pumps can greatly improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings and processes by making use of waste energy. While in this case the energy used is not considered renewable, the advantages in terms of GHG emission reduction and energy savings remain. In cities, heat pumps can be a source of energy for individual buildings and for district energy systems.
More heat pumps mean a lower demand for traditional energy sources, fewer emissions and a larger intake of renewable energy. Since heat pumps are developed, manufactured and installed in Europe, an increased market share will have a positive impact on jobs.
As heat pumps use abundant local energy sources, they contribute to the security of supply and affordability of energy.
In my opinion, the technology does more than just contribute to the 2020/2030 climate and energy targets: heat pumps contribute to a sustainable European energy system.
How do the different heat pump technologies work and which technology has the greatest potential on the European market?
The basic principle of heat pumps is the refrigeration cycle. A refrigerant is exposed to an energy source, it evaporates and slightly cools down the temperature of the source. The refrigerant gas is then compressed and its temperature increases. The energetic level of the heated gas is transferred to the heating system - the gas cools down, is expanded and becomes a liquid again. The circle can continue indefinitely.
The biggest potential for this technology at the moment is the use of air source heat pumps in the new build sector; this is also the segment that has the largest market share. Recent advancements in technology have also opened up the renovation sector.
A similarly large contribution can be expected from the use of large geothermal or hydrothermal heat pumps applied in industrial applications, quite often providing heating and cooling in parallel. The same type of system is used in large district heating systems, for example in Paris, Stockholm and Helsinki.
Increased public awareness of heat pumps will be needed if the technology is to reach its full market potential. How can public awareness be improved and what role will EHPA play in this process?
Public awareness can be raised by leading by example. Europe's buildings need to be renovated, 3% of all government-owned buildings should undergo renovation every year. A focus on heat pumps will provide a good example, proving that the technology is reliable. Since heat pump investments are often difficult due to the short-term investment focus of the average consumer, governments could take a leading role in arguing for a life-cycle costing perspective and putting words into action in buildings that are owned and operated by public bodies.
EHPA is providing information to stakeholders on the European level, but is also facilitating the dissemination of information across Europe. We work closely with our members - both on the manufacturing and on the association’s side to make best practice heat pump examples more widely known.
What benefits can an individual consumer anticipate from installing a residential heat pump?
A decision for a heat pump is a decision for more energy independence and an environmentally friendly heating solution. In combination with green electricity, an electric compression heat pump provides 100% renewable energy for heating, cooling and hot water. Thermally driven heat pumps are the best available technology to use fossil fuels for heating and hybrid systems provide the same benefit.
In combination with PV, small scale wind or hydroelectricity, a heat pump becomes the centrepiece of a local energy system that gains the maximum possible benefit from local electricity and can store surplus supply in the hydraulic tank or in the building core itself.
So the consumer receives a reliable, future-proof system with low operating costs.
Are heat pumps also cheaper solutions than comparable fossil fuel based systems? The answer depends on where the consumer lives, on the price of electricity (mainly influenced by the way electricity is taxed) and the amount of incentives paid by various bodies. In many countries, investment in heat pumps not only provides environmental benefits, but is also economically viable. In those countries where this is not the case, heat pump investment suffers from high electricity prices vs. the (artificially) low cost of fossil fuels. It is generally believed that the cost of electricity will go down in the future and that the cost of fossils will rise again - both will benefit the economic case for heat pumps.
What is the current size of the heat pump market in Europe and how do you see the market developing in the medium and long-term perspectives?
In 2013, 771,151 heat pumps were sold, leading to a total stock of 6.7 million units in Europe. The strongest growth is in the segment for sanitary hot water as well as air-water and air-air units. Over the past two years, a turnaround in sales was observable. Many national markets have turned from decline to growth. With the introduction of a number of positive legislative acts, from local schemes to the European level, I am convinced that the heat pump market is poised for growth. New technology developments, like more efficient air source compression heat pumps, hybrid heat pumps mainly combining heat pumps with small gas boilers and thermally driven heat pumps, are closing black spots on the heat pump application map.
The technology is increasingly ready to cover most of Europe's energy needs. Additional RD&D funding efforts will speed up this development.
What are the main challenges facing the market and what support is needed at a policy level to meet these challenges?
The main challenges are socio-economic rather than technical. If stakeholders understand that the technology is mature, reliable and applicable, they can start factoring it into their planning processes. This applies to the individual user as much as to the industrial or administrative procurement manager. Possibly the biggest challenge is connected to up-skilling the work force. The use of heat pumps in buildings requires planners, architects, designers and installers to understand the interaction between a building envelope and heating technology. While many individuals have this knowledge, its wider distribution to all related actors is still a challenge that needs to be tackled through education and training programs.
What are the main research needs that should be addressed for heat pumps, and is this research being sufficiently funded in Europe?
Heat pumps are a mature technology that can still be improved. Major advancements are expected from research on the development of products ready for the mass market - this includes more compact units and an optimisation of total cost of ownership.
In light of more renewables in the electric grid, heat pumps must be developed into a bridging technology between electricity and heat. Control units that can evaluate and integrate weather data and user behaviour lead to more efficient systems - both at the local level but also at the level of the grid. Heat pump systems will provide load shifting potential to electric grids, serving as thermal batteries. Research on the proof of concept of this function in smart homes and smart cities and its impact on the business case of the different stakeholders is necessary. New materials, optimised production, installation and maintenance as well as the integration of information technology into heat pumps and systems could be addressed in the calls of the EU's Horizon 2020 program, but also in national and regional R&D schemes.
Reviewing past funding rounds in FP6 and FP7 leads to the conclusion that the support given to heat pump technology does not match its potential. To speak plainly: increasing and stabilising the amount of heat pump funding over the coming years, will help the European citizen, European industry and Europe as a whole.