Heat pumps: Germany needs to catch up on other European countries

Germany is doing a lot for the energy transition in buildings and for an increased use of heat pumps for climate-friendly heating. Sales figures have been rising significantly since 2020, but Germany is still lagging behind many other European countries.

BMWK; data base: European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) & dena analysis “Wärmepumpen im Gebäudesektor” [Heat pumps in the buildings sector] (as of 09/23)© BMWK; data base: European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) & dena analysis “Wärmepumpen im Gebäudesektor” [Heat pumps in the buildings sector] (as of 09/23)

Germany has committed itself to rendering its building stock climate-neutral by 2045. For this to happen, three factors are of key importance: greater energy efficiency in buildings, climate-friendly heat generation on the basis of renewables, and the expansion of renewable energy sources such as wind-powered installations and PV.

Heat pumps will play a key role on the path towards climate neutrality. In the past, these were mainly used in new buildings. More than half of the buildings constructed in 2021 rely on environmentally-friendly energy from a heat pump. Since 2020, sales of heat pumps for use in existing buildings have also risen considerably, accounting for 24% of all heat installations sold in 2022. However, the share of existing buildings that have a heat pump was low, at less than 6% in 2022.

Germany is lagging far behind other European countries

Germany has still a lot to catch up on compared with other European countries. This can be seen from the statistics of the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA). At the top of the ranking are the Nordic countries, especially Finland where 69.4 heat pumps were sold per 1,000 households in 2022. The figure for Norway is 59.9, for Sweden it’s 39.3, 32 for Estonia, and Denmark sold just under 30 heat pumps per 1,000 households that year. By contrast, Germany’s figure (6.7) is still in the single digits, if rising. The only countries where even fewer heat pumps per 1,000 households were sold in 2022 were Hungary (3.8) and the UK (1.9).

The most important reason cited for this in the study ‘Heat pumps in the buildings sector’ conducted by the German Energy Agency (dena) is the ratio between electricity and gas prices: “In Germany, electricity prices are currently 2.8 times higher than gas prices. For the heat pumps to be widely adopted at the current cost of investment, the ratio between electricity and gas prices ought to be smaller than 2.5”, the report concludes.

That said, the following points also need to be taken into account: rising CO2 prices will make heating with gas (and oil) increasingly expensive. The reminder of the sharp rise in gas prices caused by the war in Ukraine in 2022 is also fresh: Germany is dependent on imports of fossil fuels.

Furthermore, 17 European countries have already implemented or, like Germany, announced measures similar to those stipulated in the draft for the new Buildings Energy Act. The popularity of heat pumps in Scandinavia can also be attributed to long-standing political support for the use of renewables for heating. In Denmark, for instance, almost one third of the heat supplied via district heating is to come from heat pumps.

Campaign for heat pumps is to deliver progress on the energy transition in buildings

The Federal Government is doing a lot to increase the number of heat pumps in private households further and has launched a campaign to this effect. Starting in 2024, some 500,000 new heat pumps are to be installed in Germany every year. You can find the roadmap for this here (German only).

There is no obligation to install a heat pump into a renovated or newly built building, even though this will often be the best choice.

For comprehensive information on this, visit energiewechsel.de (German only), an online portal that also has an analytic tool designed to give users a first idea as to whether a heat pump is a suitable choice for a given building: Online-„Eignungsanalyse Wärmepumpe“ (in German only).