Heat pumps will provide one-fifth of the world’s heating needs by the end of the decade if nations follow through on their plans, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
In its first global assessment of these electrical devices, the agency says they have emerged as “the central technology in the global transition to secure and sustainable heating”.
Switching from gas boilers and other fossil fuels to heat pumps is expected to cut annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the output of Canada by 2030, the IEA concludes.
Sales have already been surging, particularly in Europe, amid inflated global gas prices. They are set to reach record levels this year as many EU nations hand out incentives designed to cut their reliance on gas imported from Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine.
The report focuses on the agency’s “Announced Pledges Scenario” (APS). This assumes that governments meet all of the climate and energy commitments they have made in full, including recent pledges such as the REPowerEU strategy to cut reliance on Russian gas.
This is compared with the IEA’s “Stated Policies Scenario” (STEPS), which only accounts for policies firmly in place. It also looks at the “1.5C Net-Zero Emissions by 2050” (NZE) scenario.
The IEA concludes that heat pumps cut emissions, increase energy security and – despite the need for higher upfront investment – cut costs overall, due to lower fossil fuel use.
Huge growth in sales
Heat pumps are currently undergoing a global surge in popularity. The IEA says this has been given a boost by policies and incentives linked to climate concerns and high gas prices.
Around one-tenth of global space heating needs were met by heat pumps in 2021. Sales of heat pumps increased by 13% from the previous year, with faster growth rates of 35% seen in the EU.
As it stands, North America has the most heat pumps installed and China has the largest market, but the EU – which has been scrambling to cut energy ties with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine – is the fastest-growing market.
The IEA says it expects sales to hit record levels this year in response to the global energy crisis. It notes that this is especially true in Europe, where some countries have already seen sales double in the first half of the year, compared to 2021.
Heat pump penetration in Europe is highest in cold regions such as Norway and Finland, due to long-standing government support. The IEA notes that this “undercut[s] the argument that heat pumps are unsuitable for cold climates”.