It starts with insulation
All of this illustrates the fragility of heat pumps’ solution when approached in isolation. “In a sense, REPowerEU, as proposed, wants to cross the finish line without first running the race,” notes Quentin Galland.
Instead of going straight to installing heat pumps, Europe needs to ensure that its building stock is heat pump ready – and that starts with proper insulation. That’s because getting a heat pump to deliver the magic 400% efficiency rating is tied to two things – outside temperature and the flow temperature of the heating or radiator circuit.
“You can’t control the former, but a well-insulated home will slow heat loss to the outside, allowing a flow temperature in the radiators to go as low as 35º and still deliver a warm comfortable home,” says Steven Heath. “Poor insulation, on the other hand, means higher flow temperatures are needed to deliver that same indoor comfort, which causes the efficiency rating to collapse and the occupant to get very high bills.”
Out of the nearly 250 million houses in Europe, less than 10% were built in the last 10 years and are not in accordance with the latest insulation standards. Furthermore, of the 85 – 90% of the current building stock that will still be standing in 2050, at least 75% is energy inefficient and, without significant renovation, not properly configured for a heat pump.
“This means that the vast majority of homes are not energy efficient and thus not heat pump ready,” says Quentin Galland.
So, how do you get a home heat pump ready? “In an ideal world, measure the in-use home fabric heat loss,” notes Steven Heath. “If measured to be inefficient, install a cost-appropriate whole-house insulation specification to improve home efficiency while also sizing the heat pump and radiators to meet that now reduced space heating need.”
“Sizing should consider peak heat demand in really cold weather, as well as average demand estimates.”
Ensuring a long-term win for a historic policy initiative
With this in mind, REPowerEU should start by focusing on the 34 million Europeans who live in poorly insulated houses. “We know that rolling out heat pumps is a quick fix, but if the buildings are not first properly insulated, it’s not a long-term win for anybody,” adds Quentin Galland.
“To ensure a long-term win, we recommend putting energy efficiency at the core of Europe’s plans to achieve energy independence. All member states should support programmes to insulate the roofs, attics and cavity walls of all European homes by next winter.”
According to the Building Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), insulating homes’ attics and roofs could save up to 14% of residential heating energy by 2030. It also has the benefit of being a technically simple measure that can be quickly scaled up. Furthermore, this would result in annual energy savings equal to 26 bcm of fossil gas saved, or about 16.77% of the EU’s 2021 imports from Russia.
“Without insulation, you can’t have energy-efficient buildings, and without energy-efficient buildings, heat pumps won’t deliver low-cost low carbon heat,” concludes Steven Heath. “There’s no way around it, if we don’t take an ecosystem approach, we will fail – both as to reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and achieving our climate goals.”