The widespread adoption of industrial (or large-scale) heat pumps in Europe represents a major contribution to the continent’s efforts in achieving energy efficiency and decarbonization.
As European countries aim at making a transition towards a reduction of carbon emissions, heat pumps are a crucial development in a wide range of fields. These range from enabling the environmental benefits of district heating to more precise industrial processes, among other advantages we analyze below.
The potential of heat pumps in this new, green economy hasn’t been unnoticed by major international organizations. For instance, the IEA highlights the global sales of heat pumps skyrocketing by 11% in 2022, marking a second year of double-digit growth.
Today, the implementation of heat pumps in Europe varies widely across the continent’s nations. A look at the share of industrial heat pumps in the district heating market in Europe can serve as an example: while a baseline share of 12% was recorded in 2015, the Heat Roadmap Europe initiative sees a large potential for increasing this percentage to at least 25%.
Historically, countries such as Sweden have led in the implementation of industrial heat pumps, with most of its installed capacity being built in the 1980s and amounting to approximately 1000 MWth of power today. Other nations such as Denmark or Germany untapped the potential of heat pumps more recently, and are now closely following these figures.
But, what does the current landscape of industrial heat pumps in Europe look like and what are some foreseeable trends for the future? Let’s take a look.
The evolution of large-scale heat pumps in Europe
Large-scale heat pumps can be defined as thermodynamic systems that efficiently transfer and upgrade heat, typically in industrial or district heating and cooling applications.
In order to do so, they employ various heat sources (ranging from waste heat and ambient air, to diverse renewable energy sources). As such, they’ve been hailed as a sustainable and energy-efficient solution for heating or cooling large spaces, or used as part of industrial processes.
While early concepts of heat pumps date back to the 18th century, their industrial application began to take shape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Key milestones in their development included Post-WWII Development and the oil crises of the 1970s. This latter event in particular prompted a renewed emphasis on alternative heating technologies in Europe, so that public and private operators began to increasingly explore heat pump technology as a means to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
The following decades saw several European countries investing in large-scale heat pump projects. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s and 2010s when, with a growing focus on renewable energy integration, industrial heat pumps went directly to the center of cutting-edge thermal initiatives.
These last decades have been pivotal in research and development around industrial heat pumps in Europe, which focused on improving their efficiency and environmental performance.
At the same time and throughout this period, European governments have been instrumental in introducing policies and incentives to promote their adoption through subsidies and favorable regulations.
Today, cutting-edge industrial heat pumps are able to achieve impressive power output.
In fact, their capacity to integrate renewable energy sources is the reason why industrial heat pumps in Europe are gaining unprecedented traction.
State-of-the-art technologies are allowing these pieces of equipment to significantly raise temperature levels on sources. This pairs up with their outstanding efficiency and their capacity to deal with the inherent intermittency of certain renewable energies (such as wind and solar) thanks to the implementation of Thermal Energy Storage technologies and the integration of multiple energy sources.
Why large-scale heat pumps in Europe matter
As we’ve seen above, heat pumps have become highly energy-efficient devices that generate heat in a clean way.
Seen in detail, the following environmental benefits explain the importance of heat pumps in Europe today and in the future:
- They present outstanding efficiencies (large-scale heat pumps have an average COP between 3 and 9), leading to benefits both in the environmental and economic side
- Considering half of the EU’s energy consumption is related to heating and cooling, any green transition must necessarily contemplate a decarbonization of these issues. Heat pumps stand out for their decarbonizing capacities, which include the possibility of employing various energy sources such as waste heat and renewable energies. Thus, they lead the way to produce heat with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, aligning with Europe’s commitment to mitigate climate change
- Through the use of various energy sources, they can balance the intermittent nature of renewables, enhancing the reliability of the energy systems they integrate
- They support circular economy models through initiatives such as recovering and repurposing waste heat, contributing to closed-loop industrial processes
- They reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels, enhancing Europe's energy security
- They stimulate innovation, job creation and economic growth as part of Europe’s new green economy efforts
6 key applications of large-scale heat pumps in Europe
1. District heating and cooling
Industrial heat pumps are used to upgrade low-temperature waste heat or renewable energy sources to provide district heating and cooling for residential, commercial, and industrial areas.
In fact, the Heat Roadmap Europe initiative calculates that an efficient heating scenario by 2050 would include a 25% share of heat directly obtained through heat pumps.
The introduction of industrial heat pumps in district heating and cooling involves a number of advantages, including the increase of the system’s efficiency, the reduction of fossil fuel dependency and the lowering of greenhouse gas emissions.
At the same time, when paired up with a variety of energy sources, heat pumps ensure a flexible and reliable system, where heating and cooling demand is secured.
Heat pumps are applied in manufacturing processes as a means to obtain the necessary temperatures for operations, such as drying, evaporation and sterilization. Building up from their outstanding energy efficiency, they not only enable companies to reduce production costs but also their environmental impact.
3. Food and beverage industries
Heat pumps are employed in a variety of processes within the food and beverage industries, ranging from pasteurization, to sterilization, and drying. For instance, the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) cites the case of a well-known chocolate factory that was able to reduce their total energy consumption by 6%, the equivalent to the combined annual energy consumption of more than 600 households.
These advantages are achieved thanks to heat pumps, which enable precise temperature control, as well as significant reductions in energy costs.
4. Wastewater treatment
Heat pumps in Europe are also involved in wastewater treatment facilities, where they maintain optimal temperatures for biological treatment processes.
At the same time, they’re capable of employing waste heat and converting sewage to energy, supporting circular economy initiatives.
Metal heat treatment processes such as annealing, hardening, and tempering can benefit from the enhanced temperature control enabled by industrial heat pumps.
6. Waste Heat Recovery
Another well-known example among heat pump industrial applications is their ability to capture and repurpose waste heat from various industrial processes. This not only improves the energy efficiency of these processes but also minimizes the release of excess heat into the environment.
The future of large-scale heat pumps in Europe
A wide range of forecasts and analysis are predicting an optimistic outlook for large-scale heat pumps in Europe. What’s more, they’re in fact based on current expansion trends, such as the 11% growth of global heat pump sales in 2022, as published by the IEA. At the same time, the Heat Roadmap Europe project includes heat pump solutions as a key solution to decarbonize heating and cooling by 2025.
Guiding this success are some foreseeable trends in the coming years, which include:
- A focus on improved technology to guarantee energy source flexibility that bypasses renewable sources’ intermittency.
- Increased policy support to promote their expansion, as fossil fuels become more expensive
- Standardized engineering that limits initial investment costs
At ARANER, we’re committed to providing our clients with state-of-the-art heat technology. This is why industrial heat-pumps have been at the heart of many of our success projects. From high-temperature heat pumps to ground-source equipment, we prioritize each project’s needs and possibilities to ensure maximal economic and environmental advantages.
To learn more about our work with large-scale heat pumps and discover how we can help you with your thermal project, get in touch with us.