BUILDING CONVERSATIONS UP WITH... Dan Stefanica, Head of EU projects at European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) talking about renewable heating solutions for existing buildings.
Dan Stefanica is the Head of EU Projects at the European Heat Pump Association in Brussels. With a master's degree in lifelong learning and project management, he leads the implementation of 11 EU funded and internal projects, covering everything related to the research, design, deployment, and training needed in the fast-growing heat pump sector. He is also the chair of the EHPA Research and Innovation Committee and manages new project proposals that answer the Horizon Europe, LIFE, Interreg, Innovation Fund and Tender calls. Before this position, he worked in change management at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels.
Build Up: In brief, how can heat pump technology be explained?
Dan Stefanica: A heat pump is a device that can provide heating, cooling, and hot water for residential, commercial, and industrial applications. Any heat pump installation can provide heating and cooling in parallel, which is important as cooling demands are on a steep rise as well. Depending on which service is used predominantly, the machine is called a heat pump, an air-conditioning unit, or a cooling/refrigeration machine.
Heat pumps are far more efficient than fossil fuel boilers, are driven by electricity (eliminating the need for a gas connection), are suitable for all climates, come in many sizes and configurations (from small residential ones to large industrial devices), can be seamlessly integrated into a system that uses storage (electrical via batteries and/or thermal via e.g., water tanks) or power generation (e.g., solar PV), use renewable energy depending on the grid generation.
If electricity on the grid is 100% renewable, they represent 100% renewable heating and cooling. Each percentage of renewable electricity that is added to the grid makes the heat pump greener, making them ideal for the ongoing energy transition. Heat pumps are also used in household items (e.g., tumble dryers) and in the most efficient electric vehicles, they are a smart device that can be easily connected to smart controllers and can provide flexibility to the grid. Lately, the devices have also started to look quite good, with a lot of effort going towards their aesthetics in addition to their efficiency and ease of use.
For a more in-depth explanation in simple language and supported by pictures and graphs, I recommend the “Heat Pumps: Integrating technologies to decarbonise heating and cooling” white paper by Thomas Nowak.
Build Up: What Heat Pump systems could be currently implemented in existing buildings? Could they co-exist with the existing heating system (what type of works are needed, insulation, change of radiators, upgrade of the electrical system)?
Dan Stefanica: There is a lot to be said here, so I can go quickly in answering the question while also recommending further reading of new reports from late 2022, such as: the International Energy Agency’s The Future of Heat Pumps; International Renewable Energy Agency’s Renewable solutions in end-uses: Heat Pump costs and markets; or the technical report prepared by the Joint Research Centre Heat Pumps in the European Union: Status report on technology development, trends, value chains and markets.
In new buildings as well as deep renovations, heat pumps are the optimal choice, indeed most governments require that such projects deploy a heat pump. The type of heat pump used depends on the climate conditions of the country/region. In cold climates hydronic systems using air, water, or the ground as an energy source, while distributing heating via large radiators or under-floor heating are used. These climates usually have lower cooling demands, although cooling needs are growing rapidly. In moderate/warm climates, the use of reversible air to air heat pumps (that generate heating, cooling and hot water) are used. In these types of climate conditions, the need for cooling functions is very important.
“In new buildings, as well as deep renovations, heat pumps are the optimal choice;
indeed, most governments require that such projects deploy a heat pump”
For buildings that have undergone some or minor renovation, heat pumps are still ideal. The renovations I am talking about are in great demand nowadays, making more and more houses heat pump ready and can include insulation (walls, floor, roof) and/or energy efficient windows. When an installer estimates the heat pump and temperatures needed, they will evaluate each project individually, sometimes needing to enlarge the radiators. This is not because using the current radiators is not feasible, it is just less efficient. A smart controller (thermostat) is also a very good way to progress your project coupled with a smartphone app that tells you what your heat pump is doing.
Build Up: How do you see the current implementation of Heat Pump technologies in the existing European Building Stock? What are the main challenges for a major penetration of heat pumps in the current housing stock?
Dan Stefanica: The implementation is increasing rapidly; heat pumps are becoming a pre-requisite in newly built homes and as a part of home renovations. According to the latest Market Report from the European Heat Pump Association, by the end of 2021 a total of 16.96 million heat pump units were installed in the 21 countries covered by the data. This is an increase of +33.8% or 547 840 units over 2021. The top three markets combined, account for 48% of all sales with the top 10 markets being responsible for 87% of annual sales. A new player entered the top 3 leading markets: Germany. After the introduction of a very successful subsidy scheme, this market grew by +40% year-over-year. Also, in 2021 the heat pump stock in Germany has exceeded one million units.
It is expected that European markets return to their double-digit growth path in 2022, as more and more countries are addressing the energy transition in the heating sectors with meaningful measures. The United Kingdom has announced a target of 600,000 heat pumps to be sold annually by 2028 and plans to introduce a ban of oil and gas boilers within the next 5 years. France continues to be the strongest market in Europe. Recent announcements of a ban of fossil fuels in new buildings will support this status further in the future.
The European Union has presented its strategy for sector integration. The document foresees 40% of all residential and 65% of all commercial buildings to be heated by electricity in 2030. As the energy efficiency first principle is still valid, this means most of these buildings will be heated and cooled by heat pump systems. The trend towards heat pump solutions in the built environment is fuelled by new product offerings for the renovation sector.
I think one of the main challenges will be the staff needed to install, maintain, and decommission the ever-growing heat pump stock. But there are concerted efforts being made to address this shortcoming, indeed the focus of this year’s European Sustainable Energy Week is that of skills and re-skilling. And a lot of EHPA’s members are also working to solve the problem, be it heat pump manufacturers offering an ever more expansive set of trainings; national heat pump associations that already have a well-established curriculum; private training providers; and EU funded projects.
“One of the main challenges will be the staff needed to install, maintain,
and decommission the ever-growing heat pump stock”
Build Up: Have you perceived a change of mindset in the last years towards the Heat Pump Technologies?
Dan Stefanica: I think there has been quite a change over the last few years, with many more people becoming familiar with how the technology works and its advantages. This has gathered momentum with the support of policy makers at regional, national, European, and international levels. Indeed, many EU countries have announced plans to ban fossil fuel boilers with quite a close timeframe. The geopolitical reliance on other countries to provide gas (and other fossil fuels) has also proven to be risky both from a security perspective as well as price and employment. With heat pumps, one can generate electricity locally and renewably while constructing and servicing the devices domestically.
It has also been a shift from a heating and cooling energy consumer to a prosumer (a person that both consumes and generates), with heat pumps enabling that through their flexibility and grid balancing, as they can store energy that they draw in off peak moments. This also makes them quite smart, as they can use electricity when its price is lowest.
Lastly, with the obvious switch to electric vehicles (some of them having a built-in heat pump as well), end-users want to complement their cars with solar PV, battery storage and of course heat pumps. There is an obvious trend towards electrification and the greening of that electricity and an end-user interest for how the technologies work together. I would go so far as to call it pride, in the systems that individuals are using and the way they are becoming, themselves, key enablers of the energy transition... and in a small part renewable energy engineers.
Build Up: Two European projects, HP4ALL and SuperHomes2030, are addressing the implementation of Heat Pumps in the residential level and the skills to perform it. Are there already some important results that could be mentioned?
Dan Stefanica: Indeed, these two projects are very interesting and relevant. Superhomes2030 represents a great example of a One Stop Shop (OSS). It is not the only project to tackle the issues related to objectively and efficiently informing end-users on the opportunities for energy efficient renovations that exists, another one that comes to mind is Opengela. However, the rate of expansion and success of the Superhomes2030 project is quite amazing, in the sense that they have very ambitious goals for the number of deep renovations (Super Homes) that they deliver each year. One Stop Shops are definitely a way of increasing energy efficiency by providing the end user with a lot of support (e.g., on recommending an installer) and information (e.g., on the subsidy schemes available to them). Ultimately, saving the end-user a lot of time and effort in the process.
Regarding HP4All, this mainly deals with the need for re-skilling/up-skilling all along the value chain of heat pump installation. As the number of installations increase, the need for more trained staff is also increasing. The process of re-skilling the professionals that are currently installing fossil fuel boilers is an important first step, while making sure new professionals are entering the sector is the next. This includes new ways of learning as well as new procedures on what to learn and how these trainings are recognised from one country to the other. It’s also important to include best practices that can be replicated and/or adapted by different organisations.
“The big shift that is currently happening needs a holistic view
with all parts of the value chain and individuals involved”
I would encourage everyone to take a look at the project websites and the resources available there, as well as the many webinars and their recordings that deal with their work. Ultimately, the big shift that is currently happening needs a holistic view with all parts of the value chain and individuals involved in them, needing to be prepared for the upcoming mass deployment of heat pumps and the systems associated with them.