Marketing manager for renewable heating, Sharon Oliver heralds 2018 as the year that marks the start of the transition from gas to heat pump heating for Europe’s homes.

It’s official, 2018 is the year that marks the transition from gas to heat pump. But don’t just take my word for it. 

Renewable energy is increasingly becoming a trusted source of heat in domestic environments, with homes installing solar panels in much greater volumes than seen before.

However, when it comes to heating, most houses are still fitted with gas boilers, with many homeowners unaware of the alternative options available.

Thankfully, this trend is changing as the emergence of heat pump technology brings a new wave of domestic heating. 

The Numbers Speak Volumes

According to the "European Heat Pump Market and Statistics Report 2017", the market for heat pumps grew for a third year in a row, rising by 12% or nearly 1 million units.

 In Germany heat pumps were installed in 43% of residential buildings in 2017, moving ahead of gas heaters for the first time ever (which represented 42% of installations).

The UK government has forecast one million heat pump sales per year by 2030 and in Finland the geothermal heat pump market size is set to exceed 3GW by 2024. This figure looks very achievable when you consider the fact that over 8,000 people switched from electricity or oil driven heating system to heat pump systems in 2015 alone.

These aren’t just isolated trends – they are happening across most of Europe. Under its government’s “Energy Agenda”, The Netherlands, a long-time gas producer is turning towards the heat pump as it plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 2050. And in Denmark, estimates suggest heat pump sales will go up to 600,000 by 2050 – the year when the nation plans to be completely free of fossil fuels.

Why Now is the Moment?

Heat pumps have long been embraced for their ability to offer a renewable heat incentivisation, a reduction in running costs, increased efficiencies and a pathway to a cleaner, greener future. They are perfect solutions for residential home owners (like the Cosbie-Ross family) looking to reduce energy consumption and save money on bills. They are also increasingly becoming first choice for housing associations (like the Salvation Army Housing Association) because they are designed for retro-fitting, suitable for almost any property, even able to work alongside existing heating systems in a hybrid situation if required.

However, to really explain why 2018 is the inflection point where heat pumps truly start to take over, we need to look deeper than this. 

With oil prices at the highest level for the last three years, and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) programme lifetime extended to 2021, the arguments for adopting heat pumps are growing stronger.

There are some great innovations coming in, not just from the UK but also from global companies that will help to raise standards and contribute to a more dynamic heating market in the UK.

There is also the low-carbon economy roadmap, put in place by the EU. Whatever Brexit ends up meaning, the UK government has already agreed to incorporate EU Law into UK Law, so we will still need to take this roadmap into account.

It declares that by 2050, all members of the EU should cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80%, below the levels produced in 1990. It has also listed a number of milestones required in order to achieve this - 40% emissions cuts by 2030 and 60% by 2040.

Milestones and legislation like this are helping to shift the continent’s reliance away from its ageing gas supply chain, whilst also creating a sustainable future for off-grid homes – where heat pumps can once again offer a happy alternative to bulky fuel delivery and storage.

The Future for Heat Pumps

It’s safe to say that the future for the heat pump looks bright. But there is still a lot to be done to ensure they penetrate the market as expected. Price has always been a major factor determining their uptake - yes they do bring significant cost savings over time but they do require initial up front expenditure.

Heat pumps are a guaranteed way to reduce dependency on traditional sources of energy, and the UK government has pledged to get 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, so it is extremely likely that future governments will continue to push the virtues of the technology.

Noise is also going to become a factor as our neighbourhoods become denser. Most heat pumps are already very quiet in operation and the quieter the heat pump, the more flexibility there is in where it can be positioned to ensure no disturbance to homeowner or neighbour.

Limits on the level of sound a heat pump produces have tended to restrict where they can be sited, especially across wider use applications like social housing, or in new housing developments where homes are located very close to one another. The noise intensity of different units does vary according to design and air velocity, but over time you can expect to see significant developments in this space. As such, these ultra quieter quiet heat pumps are set to become very common across installations where space is at a premium.

It’s of no coincidence then that just this year we launched what we believe is the world’s quietest air source heat pump, offering sound levels that are three times quieter than previous models, virtually eliminating planning restrictions. 

Ongoing technological development is also crucial to further advance the pace at which home owners can be given the ultimate flexibility they need to install the device. As is education, to ensure the energy and efficiency advances become increasingly recognised by builders, planners and contractors alike.

All of this presents an exciting challenge and opportunity to those in the industry. It means that it is officially time for everybody to join together, take this momentum, build on it and stand united in creating an increasingly low carbon future.

Sharon Oliver is Marketing Manager for Mitsubishi Electric Living Environment Systems.