While it may be too early to speak of a turnaround, the underlying trend in heat pumps suggests a market in recovery, according to the European Heat Pump Association
There were constraints on growth in the heat pump market last year, largely because low consumer confidence continues to hinder investment decisions and the availability of credit remains limited. As a consequence, no recovery of the construction sector is foreseen in the near future: the overall outlook remains bleak, with a slight silver lining in residential construction, albeit from a low level.
New discoveries of gas fields, the exploration of shale gas, and the recently inaugurated Northstream pipeline have eased the pressure on gas prices and have thus brought the operating costs of gas boilers closer to those of heat pumps.
The fact that most countries' feed-in tariffs are financed via the end consumer results in a further increase of electricity prices.
It seems unfortunate that the potential of a technology that integrates renewables into the heating sector in an efficient manner is limited due to efforts to increase the share of renewables in electricity production.
An examination of the contribution of individual markets to overall heat pump sales highlights the fact that many of the traditionally larger growth markets have now reached maturity.
In terms of energy source, the trend towards aerothermal energy is pronounced in most markets. It accounts for most of the market growth and reflects the cost consciousness of consumers. Improved performance and reliability characterise air source units and these solutions are proving to be ideal in hybrid applications in combination with small gas boilers.
In applications where both heating and cooling is required, heat pumps are increasing their penetration, as they are the only technology that can deliver both of these dual functions from within a single unit, and in so doing provide unrivalled efficiency.
In total, more than 4.5 million heat pumps have been sold since 2005. This installed base saves 43,95 TWh of final energy and 18,44 TWh of primary energy, they produce 34,89 TWh of renewable energy from the air, water and the ground and are responsible for the abatement of 8,13 Mt of greenhouse gas emissions.
The stabilisation of the European heat pump sector has pretty much brought a halt to the run on acquisitions that was seen in recent years. 2011 could be characterised by a re-focusing on gas as an energy source in conjunction with heat pumps (i.e. hybrid systems), and the emergence of some market development related to thermally driven heat pumps.
New growth opportunities for heat pumps exist in the renovation sector in particular, and their potential remains stable in both the commercial and industrial sectors. While heat pumps are perceived as viable heating and cooling alternatives in these sectors, their successful sale and deployment requires fundamental engineering expertise.
The sanitary hot water segment in both residential and commercial applications is the one showing the most impressive growth for the second year in a row. This trend is expected to contine.
Last year's technology trend towards improved overall system performance, achieved through optimized components and more attention to the delivery of completely integrated solutions, continues. The importance assigned to smart grids and smart cities is evidenced by the R&D programmes of many manufacturers.
The legislative framework put in place to underpin the drive for energy efficiency throughout the continent and achievement of the 2020 targets is now beginning to bear fruit. The key Directives (EPBD, RES Directive, Ecodesign and Energy labelling) are expected to provide a positive market impact on the inclusion and adoption of heat pumps.
The outlook into 2013 is encouraging, although the European macroeconomic environment will remain challenging, and this is expected to last into 2014. Signs of recovery are now clearly visible in some national markets, and the outlook for the European market is positive on the back of a bottoming out in 2011.
More information can be found at www.ehpa.org