February 26. 2024. 4:37

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Heat pump makers worried by EU crackdown on climate-warming F-gases

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted on Wednesday (1 March) for a quick phasedown of F-gas refrigerants, in a move that drew criticism from the heat pump industry.

Fluorinated gases were introduced in the 1990s to replace the ozone-wrecking “Hydrochlorofluorocarbons” (HCFCs) and are commonly used in cooling appliances like refrigerators and air conditioning systems.

The problem, however, is that F-gases wreak havoc on the climate and amount to an estimated 2.5% of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“F-gases are not well-known, but have major implications for our climate, as they are very powerful greenhouse gases,” explained Bas Eickhout, a Dutch lawmaker who steers the EU’s proposed F-gas regulation in the European Parliament.

Eickhout, a Green lawmaker, has been pushing for an ambitious phase-out of F-gases, saying “natural alternatives are readily available” in most instances.

In a vote on Wednesday (1 March), the Parliament’s environment committee backed a quick phase down. As of in 2024, only 23.6% of the amount used in 2015 will be allowed on the market, MEPs decided. From 2027, this will go down to 11%, before steadily approaching zero by 2050 on a sloped trajectory.

The biggest cuts will be made from 2024 onwards, in order to bring the EU in line with its 2030 climate goals and the Montreal agreement on F-gases.

Lawmakers strongly backed that position, with 64 votes in favour and eight against. The final adoption in the plenary is expected on 29-30 March, paving the way for talks with EU member states to finalise the law.

Yet, not everyone is happy with the direction taken by the European Parliament. Some industries have strongly opposed scaling back F-gases at such speeds, with the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) leading the charge.

“This position represents a ban on equipment containing F-gases, in some cases as early as 2026,” EHPA said in a statement, warning that restricting F-gases “risks significantly limiting the number of heat pumps available in certain market segments.”

Yet, some heat pump manufacturers have welcomed the more ambitious phase-out of F-gases.

“The vote is a clear environmental and industrial policy signal,” said Alix Chambris, vice president for global public affairs and sustainability at the German heat pump maker Viessmann.

Viessmann is among the heat pump manufacturers relying on natural refrigerants like CO2, ammonia and propane. “Like many other European heat pump makers,” Chambris added.

Natural refrigerants are seen as the natural successor to F-gases during the ramp-up of heat pump production. Countries like Germany have already created special subsidy schemes for heat pumps and air conditioners that run on natural refrigerants.

EU crackdown on climate-wrecking F-gases hits heat pump snag

As Europe looks to reach climate neutrality by 2050, it must quickly clamp down on fluorinated gases, a super-warming gas used mainly in air conditioning and refrigeration but also in green technologies like heat pumps.

Industrial race

The last revision of the F-gas regulation, also negotiated by Eickhout, went through without a hitch. But, as the Dutchman told his colleagues in Parliament, the growing prevalence of heat pumps on the European market now calls for a revision.

Heat pumps are at the centre of the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan to ditch Russian fossil fuels, with a target to double the current deployment rate of individual heat pumps, “resulting in a cumulative 10 million units over the next 5 years”.

This is why EU lawmakers are keen to continue producing them in Europe.

Here, some observers point to a somewhat protectionist aspect of the F-gas regulation. In Brussels, it is commonly understood that foreign heat pump manufacturers rely more heavily on F-gases than their European competitors.

“Many European companies are already at the forefront of this development and will benefit from it, because of their market position and export opportunities,” Eickhout said.

However, many retort that EU regulations should not exclude foreign manufacturers from the European market. Lawmakers and industry have warned that restricting imports would make heat pumps more expensive in Europe, thereby slowing the bloc’s REPowerEU objectives.

To address this, the Parliament added a requirement asking the Commission to “ensure that the HFC [F-gas] phase-down does not endanger the RePowerEU heat pump deployment targets”.

A new paragraph added to the draft regulation would require the EU executive to sit down with “relevant stakeholders” to assess the “impact of the HFC quota phase-down on the Union’s heat pump market” in 2025.

Should REPowerEU targets be at risk, the Commission would then be empowered to draw up a special derogation to ensure heat pumps can continue being imported in Europe.

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?