Berlin Federal Minister of Construction Klara Geywitz (SPD) and Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) want to get homeowners to install electric heat pumps as quickly as possible in order to heat in a climate-friendly manner and reduce dependence on Russian gas and oil.
The aim is to install six million heat pumps by 2030, said Habeck after the virtual “heat pump summit” on Wednesday, which was attended by representatives of the heating industry, the housing industry, trade and the energy industry.
In order to achieve the goal, 500,000 heat pumps would have to be installed annually from 2024, said Habeck. For classification: Last year, 150,000 heat pumps were installed in buildings. Geywitz emphasized that it was about organizing “a huge transformation” in the heating market.
Heat pumps that run on electricity should help to reduce dependence on Russian natural gas and at the same time significantly improve the carbon footprint for heating buildings and hot water supply. Natural gas, 55 percent of which still came from Russia last yeardominates in Germany the heating market for years.
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According to industry information, of the approximately 21 million heating systems in Germany, 14 million are operated with natural gas, 5.5 million with oil and 0.9 million with biomass. This is offset by 1.1 million heat pumps.
Heat pumps draw a large part of the energy for heating from the environment, such as air and groundwater. In order to make the heat usable, they need electricity for the drive and pump. The electricity should come from renewable energies.
So far, heat pumps have not been the first choice in old buildings
While heat pumps are now considered the standard solution in new buildings, they are not yet the first choice in older buildings. This is due to the fact that heat pumps demonstrate their efficiency advantages particularly in well-insulated buildings.
In contrast to boilers, which work with fossil fuels, heat pumps only heat the water in the radiators to comparatively low temperatures when they are operating optimally. In well-insulated buildings, this is sufficient to achieve the required space heating, but not in less well-insulated buildings. However, the industry points to technological advances that should also make operation in less well-insulated buildings efficient.
Geywitz and Habeck announced that after the summer break, they would work together with industry to answer questions about the permits for operating the plants and their financing. In addition, solutions are to be sought for what is probably the greatest challenge in connection with the switch from gas or oil boilers to heat pumps: the lack of skilled workers who can manufacture and install the devices.
Trade complains about a shortage of skilled workers
Helmut Bramann, General Manager of the Central Association for Sanitary, Heating and Air Conditioning (ZVSHK), said that the ever-shortened deadlines for the increased use of heat pumps by politicians significantly increased the need for skilled workers. “Together we must manage to cover the additional capacity requirements in the specialist area, but also to optimize assembly processes.”
The federal government is also planning to reorganize the funding system for increasing energy efficiency in the building sector. On July 13, the ministry intends to present a corresponding immediate program that should lead to concrete legislative projects in the second half of the year. The heat pump subsidy should also play an important role.
A declaration of intent adopted by the participants at the summit states that “concerted action by politicians, industry, specialist trade, network operators and the social partners” is required in order to achieve the expansion targets for heat pumps. In the declaration, the manufacturers commit to expanding their production capacities and further developing heat pumps in such a way that their professional installation is simplified and shortened.
The skilled trades want to develop concepts for “dynamic heat pump installations” and advance the qualification of specialists. In addition, according to the declaration of intent, “infrastructural and regulatory obstacles” would have to be identified and removed.
A lack of permits inhibits the use of heat pumps
In fact, the commissioning of electric heat pumps sometimes fails due to a lack of permits. Rolf bookhead of the housing group Vonovia, had recently criticized, his company installed numerous heat pumps last year and submitted applications to the responsible electricity network operators for commissioning, but “90 percent of the heat pumps applied for last year have not yet been approved,” said Buch at the beginning of June at the Handelsblatt hydrogen summit. The systems are therefore ready for use in the houses, “but we continue to burn Putin’s gas,” he criticized.
After six months, no one has responded to half of the heat pump applications Vonovia reported. This is not due to bad will, but is a question of capacity. However, Buch warned that the slow approval procedures for heat pumps could become a “huge problem” for climate protection. The processes would have to be standardized and streamlined.
The federal government is planning to force the switch to heat pumps with a regulation that is to apply from January 2024: Newly installed heating systems should then be operated with 65 percent renewable energies if possible. The condition cannot be met with pure gas or oil boilers. That should give heat pumps a boost.
However, there are also doubts as to whether focusing on the heat pump is the right decision. Uwe Glock, President of the Federal Association of the Heating Industry (BDH), said that when choosing the heating system, the focus should be on the individual building and the reason for the renovation.
“We need the full breadth of technological solutions”
The heat pump is an important pillar of the heat transition, but it requires the entire range of technological solutions to achieve the climate protection goals. The BDH also includes hybrid solutions that combine a heat pump with another heat generator, as well as hydrogen-compatible heating systems, home ventilation with heat recovery, wood-based heating and solar thermal energy.
Civil engineer Lamia Messari-Becker said the buildings, their energetic qualities, energy infrastructure and local opportunities are so diverse that there is no one solution, one technology that works well for everyone. “Openness to technology is a requirement of social and economic responsibility,” said Messari-Becker, Professor of Building Technology and Building Physics at the University of Siegen. Anyone who ignores this “accepts wasting tax money in times of crisis without helping people and using environmental and climate protection”.