Heat Pumps Are Being Adopted More Widely

Jennifer Leakos
So hot right now meme
Courtesy of KnowYourMeme

Heat pumps have been gaining momentum as more countries pump awareness of this technology as a pathway to reduce emissions.

Background: Heating and cooling is an import sector to figure out, with buildings consuming 13 percent of the world’s natural gas supply. The key benefit of heat pumps is their efficiency, using 38 to 50 percent less electricity than a standard furnace.

  • Heat pumps currently provide 10 percent of global space heating needs, a fraction of the 40 percent that is being met with gas heating.  

How heat pumps work

They bascially work like a refrigerator (though how many of us really know how our fridge works?). In its essence, it doesn’t produce heat, it just moves it. 

  • In the summer, heat pumps take the heat from your inside home and transfer it outside, cooling the space.
  • In the winter, they warm your home by taking heat from the air outside (and sometimes the ground) and bringing that heat in. Even when it is -20°C outside, there is still some thermal energy in the air, so long as it’s above absolute zero.

Heat pumps: An overview

Heat pumps: An overview
Courtesy of the International Energy Agency

Warning, some nerdy technical details ahead….

A typical heat pump contains refrigerant, an evaporation (heating) coil, and a condensation (cooling) coil.   

  1. When the refrigerant is heated in the heating coil, it evaporates and becomes a gas.
  2. That evaporated gas then gets compressed, which increases its temperature and pressure.
  3. The gas moves to the cooling coil where it releases its heat and condenses. As it cools, it becomes a liquid again.
  4. The liquid then moves to an expansion valve that reduces the pressure and temperature of the liquid, and it’s now cooled enough to absorb heat all over again.

Like everyone’s favourite UNO card, this cycle can be reversed and the evaporation and condensation coils switch, depending on whether it’s summer or winter.

Around the world: Like saunas and high-waisted jeans, the Scandinavian countries are ahead of the adoption curve. 60 percent of buildings in Norway already have heat pumps installed, with Finland and Sweden sitting at around 40 percent.

  • Historically, heat pumps worked poorly in colder climates and that had limited their adoption, but new tech has allowed them to operate efficiently even at lower temperatures.

By contrast, just 17 percent of homes in the US have heat pumps installed.

Recent boom: Sales have jumped significantly over the past year, with the EU heat pump market having grown by 40 percent and the global market by 11 percent.

  • This was spurred by the Russia-Ukraine war, as many European countries tried to be more energy efficient.

Even with their rapid growth in the recent years, there is still a gap in the number of heat pumps expected to be installed and the number of heat pumps required for the International Energy Agency’s net-zero pathway. 

Historic global heat pump sales and forecast

Historic global heat pump sales and forecast
Courtesy of Nature

Where’s the money coming from? You guessed it: the US Inflation Reduction Act. The US policy provided the necessary tax rebates to install heat pumps along with $250 million to invest in domestic heat pump technology.

  • The European Union has planned to double their deployment as part of REPowerEU to move away from reliance on Russian, with individual countries having implemented their own incentives.

Bottom line: Heat pumps will be gaining more traction as a way to reach emissions targets. The IEA anticipates that $160 billion of annual investment will be required by 2030 to achieve net zero by 2050.