March 2. 2024. 3:43

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Brussels prepares ‘strategy’ to boost deployment of heat pumps

In a bid to further the EU’s energy independence, the European Commission has announced an action plan in the coming months to boost the manufacturing and deployment of heat pumps in Europe.

The Kremlin’s war in Ukraine and a renewed focus on industrial policy has put the humble heat pump at the centre of EU plans to exit Russian fossil fuels.

“You can also expect from our side that we will present a strategy on heat pumps,” the EU’s energy commissioner, Kadri Simson, told lawmakers in the European Parliament’s industrial committee on Thursday (9 March).

Doing so would support the EU’s efforts to become more energy independent and “not to replace one unreliable source of gas with another,” Simson said, adding that the strategy is expected to be tabled before the end of the year, coinciding with industrial policy endeavours spearheaded in Brussels.

Heat pumps are often described as “reverse fridges” – they concentrate ambient heat, producing warmth at a much greater degree of efficiency than their traditional counterparts.

While heat pumps are expected to become the largest source of decarbonised household heat in Europe, the appliance had been relegated to a relatively minor role in the EU’s plan to exit Russian fossil fuels, dubbed REPowerEU, that was presented in May last year.

The REPowerEU plan aimed to “double the rate of deployment of heat pumps,” referring to 10 million hydronic heat pumps “in the next five years” and 30 million by 2030.

This was not ambitious enough for the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA), which called for “an EU heat pump accelerator” in response. “The challenges of a massive heat pump rollout require concerted action,” said Thomas Nowak, EHPA’s secretary general.

While relatively little is known about the actual content of the strategy, Nowak says it “will help decision makers to focus and hopefully ensure sufficient capacity across the value chain.”

According to a European Commission spokesperson, “this initiative will be closely coordinated with the Green Deal Industrial Plan and the Net-Zero Industry Act,” which is due to be presented on 14 March.

The heat pump strategy will thus become part of a wider EU industrial policy push to ensure that “clean” industries are located in Europe.

Doing so pits Europe against other regions of the world, which have also entered the race to manufacture the new wave of heating appliances that are set to equip millions of homes. China, in particular, has seen exports of heat pumps to Europe increase significantly in the past years.

Battle for dominance in heat pump markets reaches Europe

Heat pumps, considered crucial to climate-neutral heating, are another industrial sector in which nations compete over leadership. The EU learnt a harsh lesson from the loss of its solar industry, can it avoid a repeat of history?

Measures already in place

As a first step, the European Commission presented on Thursday its new Temporary Crisis Framework for state aid, which allows national governments to subsidise “the manufacturing of strategic equipment” such as solar panels, batteries, and heat pumps.

“Our rules enable Member States to accelerate net-zero investments at this critical moment,” explained Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy.

Heat pumps are also one of few technologies to benefit from a special emergency regulation passed in 20 December 2022. Limited to 18 months, the emergency rules stipulate that permit waiting time for new clean heaters of significant size “shall not exceed one month.”

For smaller household types, no permit shall be required.

Boost for Germany’s heat pump makers as industrial policy meets climate action

The heat pump industry, the new darling of the German government, must grow rapidly to achieve the 2024 target of beginning the installation of 500,000 pumps a year, which Berlin is happy to assist in.