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OVERVIEW - Heat Pumps: a Mature Technology for Efficient Buildings

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Heat pumps transform renewable energy from air, ground or water into useful heat for space heating and domestic hot water. Heat pumps can also recover energy from exhaust air or waste water.

Here you can download the PDF version of this Overview article (see below under 'Additional documents').

Enjoy reading, and feel free to send a comment of your own!


A heat pump is used to transport heat from a low temperature source to a higher temperature use (heat sink) by means of a transfer fluid (or refrigerant) in a thermodynamic cycle. Energy (usually electricity, or gas) is needed to circulate the transfer fluid and to operate pumps and fans.


Heat pumps are energy efficient and environment-friendly

The European annual sales market (2011) exceeds 770,000 units and the installed heat pump stock exceeds 4.5 million appliances (source: EHPA).

Heat pumps are often installed in new buildings. Heat pumps are used for renovation, in residential, social or historical buildings, or for replacing old heating systems. Heat pumps are also present in large commercial buildings and in net zero energy office buildings.

Reports from European or national research projects demonstrate that the heat pump is an effective technology for reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to EHPA, the European heat pump stock saves each year 44 TWh of final energy, 18 TWh of primary energy and produces 35 TWh of renewable energy from air, water and ground with an abatement of 8.1 Mt of CO2 emissions. In addition, heat pumps can become a key component in the smart energy grid approach.

The use of heat pumps is affected by existing and forthcoming European regulations, such as the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), the Renewable Energy Sources (RES) Directive, the F-Gas regulation about refrigerants, and the Energy-related Products (ErP) Directive.


Ensuring the quality of products and installations

At European level, heat pumps are covered by the EHPA Quality Label and by a certification scheme managed by Eurovent Certification. National certification schemes also exist (NF PAC in France, P-Mark in Sweden), as well as national ecolabels (Blauer Engel in Germany, Svanen in Nordic countries). The EU Ecolabel also contains requirements for heat pumps.

Qualification and certification schemes for heat pump installers have been implemented in several European countries. The EHPA EUCert programme aims at implementing a training program and a certification program for heat pump installers and disseminating the trademark Certified heat pump installer in Europe.

Consumers are well-informed about heat pumps by numerous guides and leaflets (see here for examples from Italy or France). Such guidance is often published by national energy agencies or associations for the promotion of heat pumps.


Well organised professionals at international, European and national level

A number of well-structured organisations exist to allow professionals to exchange information and to access to research results in conferences and workshops at international level (IEA Heat Pump Programme, IEA Heat Pump Centre, IIR), at European level (European Heat Pump Association, Renewable Heating and Cooling European Technology Platform) and at national level in several countries (see examples from France and Switzerland).

Leading examples of European projects about heat pumps in the framework of the Intelligent Energy Europe Program include SEPEMO-Build on the calculation method of the heat pump seasonal performance, ProHeatPump about efficient heat pumps and QualiCert about the certification of installers. An ongoing European demonstration project (GROUND-MED) deals with ground source heat pumps in Mediterranean climates. In addition, deep geothermal heat pumps have been developed in Serbia and Slovenia within the EUREKA framework.


Actual heat pump performance and perspectives

A database resulting from three European projects identifies 113 case studies from 18 countries. Measurements have been obtained on heat pumps in real use conditions, for example in Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, giving insights into actual performance and ways to improve it.

In a recent position paper issued by the IEA Heat Pump Programme (HPP), it is stated that ‘heat pumping technologies are a mature, widely deployed, and cost-effective energy efficiency option, with a significant role to play in portfolios of measures to address key energy policy concerns’. In addition, the IEA HPP states that efficiencies can still be improved, that market penetration could be higher and that decarbonisation of the electricity sector will reduce CO2 emissions from heat pumps to very low levels.




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2. Operation principle of a heat pump, copyright EHPA-Alpha Innotec

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I think your recent article on heat pumps is interesting, but it is a lot too positive. The carbon and energy benefits of heat pumps are very heavily dependent on the energy source that drives them and their COP. If a high carbon source of electricity is used then often times heat pumps will be less efficient than simply burning fossil fuels at source in efficient furnaces. This is because of high carbon emissions, low thermal efficiency of many older electricity generators and large losses in transmission to the end user. If low COP (4 or less) heat pumps are used this exacerbates the problem Heat pumps can be very low carbon if low carbon electricity is used or if they are used as part of integrated uses of energy. In addition, the article says that heat pumps create "renewable energy". That is clearly wrong and should not be in a build up article. Heat pumps transfer energy and that energy is replaced by air, water or ground heat flows. They do not create energy. Heat pumps are not "green" heaters, they are simply less dirty than direct electrical heating and their net effect depends very much on the source of the energy they use. The article should state clearly that heat pumps use energy more efficiently than using electricity to heat directly. It should then go on to make clear the qualifications for any "greener" claims by heat pump proponents.