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The European Heat Pump Market Requires a Wise Business Plan

Young Hoon Kim
Nov 03, 2022

GHI Blog

There are many different types of heat pumps (HPs), including air to water HPs (AWHPs), ground source HPs (GSHPs), and exhaust air HPs (EAHPs) . Air source HPs (ASHPs) can be categorized as air to air and air to water types. Within the air to air category, there are window, mini-split, multi-split, and more. The air to air type is usually known as AC, but the HP (i.e., reversible HP) can provide cooling and heating. AWHP, in contrast, has a reversible system but usually only provides heating. The HP terminology depends on the region. For example, North Americans use HP water heater terms for heating water, and Europeans prefer AWHP terminology for heating water and occupied space. Also, AWHP is widely adopted across Europe due to a culture that favors heating via radiators.

Growing AWHP Demand Creates the Need for Technological Advancements

Radiators typically need an input temperature above 65°C (149°F) or 70°C (158°F) to heat a room effectively due to their small surface area. Nonetheless, HPs can raise the water temperature to about 35°C (95°F)-50°C (122°F) depending on many factors, such as the ambient temperature conditions of the installation site. However, technologies running properly even in cold climate regions have been developed to supply water at higher temperatures (e.g., above 65°C [149°F]).

Among these high AWHP technologies, vapor gas injection (also called flash gas injection or double gas injection, depending on companies) solutions can provide water temperature up to 65°C (149°F). Several companies (e.g., Daikin with its Altherma 3 H MT and LG with its Therma V Monobloc) have introduced vapor injection adopted products using low global warming potential (GWP) refrigerant (i.e., R32–GWP 675) targeting the European HP market. R410A, a synthetic refrigerant that has been widely used in HP so far, is about GWP 2,088. Another solution, called cascade cycle, uses two separate vapor compression refrigerant flows. Adopting high-temperature favorable natural refrigerants such as R744 (CO2–GWP 1) and R290 (Propane–GWP 3) for AWHP is also a solution for radiators. In Europe, Vattenfall launched an HP that uses R744, and Vaillant has an HP that uses R290.

European HP Market Needs a Well-Thought-Out Market Entry Approach

However, there is no silver bullet solution for sustainable heating in Europe yet. R744 is not easy to deal with due to the high-pressure property, and R290 is A3 classified flammable refrigerant. The cascade cycle is expensive due to two separate refrigerant flows, and most cascade units use high GWP refrigerant (e.g., R410A–2,088 GWP, and R134A–1,430 GWP). R32's GWP is 675, but it is still a synthetic refrigerant and is classified as A2L (mild flammability), requiring careful installation. Honeywell's new synthetic refrigerant, R466A, a non-flammable (A1) alternative with low GWP (733), is being extensively tested by global manufacturers.

Furthermore, upcoming policies and regulations (e.g., F-gas regulation review in 2022) may lead the direction of HP development in Europe. In addition, there are other solutions, such as a low-temperature radiators, for HPs. Unlike traditional radiators, low-temperature radiators may need a water temperature varying between 40°C (104°F) and 50°C (122°F) maximum. Underfloor heating is another solution suitable for generic AWHP. 

Some European regions have preferred to use AWHP with only heating due to the mild summer. However, the current climate issue, such as sudden heat waves, may increase cooling demand in Europe, so there is growing interest in using mini-split reversible HP to provide heating and cooling. Thus, HP manufacturers need to review various business factors such as technology, regulation, and installation culture to derive a wise HP market entry strategy in Europe.