Topics change with times. In 2007, all activity of the heat pump industry was focused on achieving the technologies acknowledgement in the Directive on the promotion of the use of Renewables (2009/28/EC). It was perceived a great success when this goal was reached and the Directive changed the definition of renewable energy to include air and water (ground had been part of it already).
It became clear very soon afterwards, however, that this was only the opening chapter in the book towards a future orientated, sustainable energy supply. Many chapters would have to be written until the story was told. The RES Directive implementation is currently in full swing and the efforts Member States make will most likely lead to a 20 % share of renewable energy in 2020. With target being appropriately addressed, the focus is shifting to energy efficiency. The proposed target of a 20 % increase in energy efficiency by 2020 is not mandatory (yet). It is nonetheless important to reach it, as further increase in energy demand may even put the renewable target at risk.
In consequence the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States are now working on finalizing the Energy Efficiency Directive. The first draft shows a strong focus on large scale technology, combined heat and power as well as thermal energy grids. The perspective taken seems to be too technology prescriptive for an energy landscape characterized by a switch from central to decentral production, by a shift towards more renewables and by a strong effort towards a continuous reduction in buildings energy demand. The draft text implies a strong belief in the efficiency improvement potential of large scale installations, both on the heat source and the heat sink sides. They should then be connected via district heating grids to balance peaks in heat supply and demand and to make best use of waste heat.
While energy should not be wasted, the outlined approach seems to be too single sided, as it overlooks (again) the potential of distributed heat production. If the heating sector as a sleeping giant is really taken seriously, central production
and heat distribution via grids can only be part of a full pack of measures. It must inevitably address small-scale heat production in buildings. Efficient production will have to be augmented by flanking measures on the demand side. When looking at this task from a heat pump perspective, their widespread use is obvious: the technology can transform waste and ambient energy, that is normally useless to a useful level. Heat pumps can be employed as individual installations and connected to low temperature energy grids. They will make the energy infrastructure more efficient – in a cost and an energy perspective.
If planned properly, the integration of efficient production, efficient use and smart demand side strategies will lead to a more sustainable heat supply with a much larger RES share. Overcoming boundaries towards change means overcoming
current high investment cost. The end consumer needs to understand that, in the long run, the choice towards an efficient, renewable energy solution pays of. Encompassing information can be provided by government agencies, supported by financing options. Contrary to current belief, governments and society will benefit from this effort, as it will contribute to higher energy efficiency, more RES use and lower GHG emissions. In addition, a larger share of heat pumps, in connection with smart grids, will balance heat supply and demand and will allow a larger share of intermittent renewable electricity.
This is the message to policy makers on all levels: an energy efficiency Directive as proposed today that does not address the big picture hardly deserves the name.
It should be technology neutral and focus on all available options, giving preference to the least cost solution and avoiding a distortion of cost by unequal taxation and/or subsidy schemes. This requirement is indespensible taking into
account the critical economic situation of many Member States, cities and regional administrations.