LITTLETON, Colo., Nov 30 (Reuters) - Households across
Europe are scrambling to get hold of the latest must-have gadget
this holiday season: heat pumps.
While not as eye-catching as giant flat screen TVs or as
sleek as the latest smartphone, heat pumps have surged in
popularity this year as soaring power bills triggered an urgent
search for more affordable heating options across the continent.
The main attraction of heat pumps - which use
electric-powered mechanical energy rather than fossil fuels to
heat and cool buildings - is their ability to convert one unit
of electricity into 2.5 to 5.5 units of heat, according to the
International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
That equates to a 250% to 550% efficiency range, compared
with 80% to 85% efficiency for older fossil fuel boilers, IRENA
noted in a report on heat pumps released this week.
With European power bills set to jump multiple times their
normal levels this winter after Russia's invasion of Ukraine
sent natural gas prices soaring, homeowners, businesses and
governments alike are all urgently looking for ways to cut
costs, emissions and reliance on imported energy.
Europe was already the world's top market for heat pumps
before this year's power crisis supercharged demand for them,
with annual sales there topping 1 million units since 2015.
In 2021, thanks in part to stimulus packages tied to
COVID-19 recovery efforts, heat pump sales jumped by 34% in
Europe to a record 2.18 million units, concentrated mainly in
France, Italy, Sweden, Germany and Spain, according to data from
the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA).
In 2022, sales have surged even further, with installations
in Europe's largest economy, Germany, jumping by 25% in the
first half from the same period in 2021, according to figures
from the Federal Association of German Heating Industry.
In Finland, heat pump sales jumped by 80% in the first half
to 75,000 units, Finnish Heat Pump Association data showed,
while homeowners in The Netherlands face waiting lists for the
devices due surging demand and shortages of parts.
The relentless demand for heat pumps looks set to grow
further in the years ahead thanks for a slew of national and
regional policy measures designed to accelerate Europe's energy
system transition away from fossil fuels and improve residential
heating efficiency levels.
In Germany, Europe's largest natural gas consumer and second
most populous country after Russia, authorities aim to install
500,000 new heat pumps a year from 2024 onwards.
In the Netherlands, which relies on gas for roughly 70% of
residential heating, hybrid heat pumps will become mandatory in
all homes from 2026.
Farther afield and over the longer term, other countries
across Europe are also expected to embrace heat pumps
aggressively, with this year's European Commission's REPowerEU
plan targeting around 20 million heat pumps to be installed in
the European Union by 2026 and nearly 60 million by 2030,
according to the EHPA.
The cumulative impact of such a widespread pivot by millions
of households to electric-powered heat pumps will be most
evident in Europe's demand for natural gas.
While the transition away from fossil fuels to cleaner
energy sources will take years, the simultaneous switch-out
already underway of gas-fired boilers for electricity-powered
heat pumps may mean that Europe's total gas consumption has
already peaked, and trends steadily lower going forward.
Europe is the fourth-largest gas-consuming region, and
accounted for 13.6% of global natural gas consumption in 2021,
according to Enerdata.
Europe is also the most integrated major market, connected by
pipelines from Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Over the coming years, steadily diminishing consumption by
such a critical and well-connected market will lead to gas
supply build ups in other regions, and supply diversions to less
In the near term, fast-growing consumers in Asia and
elsewhere will be able to absorb additional gas volumes and
potentially offset the lower use in Europe.
But over the longer turn consumers in those regions will
also be drawn to power-saving devices like heat pumps,
especially in areas that lack extensive pipeline connections
that help lower the cost of gas supplies to end users.
So while Europe may be the hot spot for heat pumps today, it
is likely that their appeal to households and businesses may go
global in due course, and make an even bigger dent in worldwide
fossil fuel use.
(Reporting by Gavin Maguire; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)