Vattenfall launches heat pump in the Netherlands and UK

The humble electric heat pump has become a hero of climate action, and European energy company Vattenfall is among those who see electrification written on the wall. Vattenfall has just teamed up with the company Feenstra to introduce a new heat pump that can replace natural gas boilers on a direct basis, without the need for expensive renovations or new insulation.

The heat pump revolution is here

Air source heat pumps work by moving heat from one place to another. The basic idea is that heat naturally wants to move from one place to another, that is, from warmer places to cooler places. Heat pumps just take that bullet and work with it.

The name “heat pump” is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the same unit can reverse and become an air conditioner when the indoor temperature is too high.

The implications of the heat pump trend for the electrification of buildings movement are enormous. Much attention has been paid to freeing fossil fuels from its grip on large centralized power plants, but decarbonising individual buildings is also part of the plan to save the planet.

Here in the United States, electricity players have started to embrace the idea that they can sell more kilowatts by encouraging their customers to move away from fossil-fueled heaters and boilers in favor of a gas pump. heat. This may have been factored into the decision last year by two utilities to drop their support for a new pipeline in North Carolina.

The US Department of Energy is a fan, having released a report that enlists “millions of heat pumps” to participate in rapid decarbonization.

Vattenfall piles up on heat pump jam

At least one player in fossil fuels has already started to cover its bets on the movement to electrify buildings. That would be Shell, which has partnered with PassivSystems to introduce next-generation heat pump technology. In 2019, the two companies introduced a new hybrid system that can switch between fossil fuel and electricity, depending on weather conditions.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Swedish energy company Vattenfall is joining the heat pump rush, especially given the steps it is taking to move away from coal and natural gas. This transition is not nearly complete, but Vattenfall is quickly gaining a foothold in the areas of floating solar power, green hydrogen and other emerging technologies, as well as its more conventional wind and solar investments.

Vattenfall has partnered with Feenstra to roll out its new all-electric heat pumps, starting in the Netherlands later this year.

An instant replacement for natural gas

The UK will be next on the list for new heat pumps, and if you’re wondering why the rest of the EU isn’t, that’s a good question.

The answer has to do with the heating systems commonly used in buildings in the Netherlands and the UK. New heat pumps operate at high temperatures and are designed to replace heating systems that rely on natural gas to boil water, which is then released as steam to a building’s radiators. Systems like these are common in the Netherlands and the UK, so this is a logical place to start a marketing campaign.

“The similarities between Dutch and UK gas central heating mean that these high temperature heat pumps could be suitable for UK housing in suburban and rural areas,” says Vattenfall. “They could allow households to swap in their existing gas boilers without having to incur the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of their heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time. “

As to why conventional heat pumps won’t do the trick, Vattenfall explains that heat pumps normally operate between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius, which means building owners looking to replace their gas boilers should invest in new insulation and other renovations to get enough heat. The Vattenfall-Feenstra mashup is in the range of 60 to 80 degrees Celsius, which gas boilers provide.

More bad news for natural gas

As described by Vattenfall, heat pumps are not the ultimate solution for all buildings. The company offers them to suburban and rural areas, where individual heat pump installations would be a relatively inexpensive alternative to building or upgrading sprawling distribution networks.

For more densely populated urban areas, Vattenfall promotes district heating networks that would rely on captured residual heat.

None of this is good news for natural gas players in the United States, who have barely finished celebrating after rumors that the United States is expected to be the world leader in liquefied natural gas exports this year. .

It is quite a turnaround for the United States. Prior to 2016, the country only exported natural gas from the lower 48 states by pipeline to Mexico. LNG marine exports from the United States were not common until 2016.

“The United States’ liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacity has grown rapidly since the 48 Lower 48 states began exporting LNG in February 2016,” the United States Information Agency reported. energy last month. “In 2019, the United States became the world’s third largest exporter of LNG, behind Australia and Qatar. Once the new LNG liquefaction units, known as Trains, at Sabine Pass and Calcasieu Pass in Louisiana come on stream by the end of 2022, the United States will have the largest LNG export capacity in the world. .

New gas export terminals have faced fierce opposition in some instances, but this does not appear to have slowed the pace of activity. What will slow things down is a drop in demand, and that seems to be the direction in which Vattenfall and other like-minded energy players.

Heat pumps vs. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Natural gas is a particularly hot topic in the EU due to its dependence on gas imports from Russia, in addition to anything related to climate change. The Obama administration and members of Congress have supported relaxing LNG export rules in part on the pretext that US gas would weaken Russia’s influence in EU energy markets.

Former President Donald Trump * took control of the White House in 2016, apparently with the help of a propaganda campaign attributed to Russia. If Russia expected Trump to return the favor by cracking down on LNG exports when he took office, it should have looked at the fine print. As might be expected, the Trump administration has blithely increased the pace of LNG exports.

The Trump administration may also have surprised people at the Kremlin headquarters by sending former Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Ukraine in 2019, where he officially confirmed US opposition to the North Gas Pipeline project. Stream 2, a key project for Russian natural gas players. Nord Stream 2 would bypass Ukraine and Poland, directing gas directly from Russia to Germany.

The Biden administration appears to have taken the wrong turn, turned around, and lobbied against actions in Congress to sanction Nord Stream 2. However, all may not be what it seems. Lobbying may be aimed at giving Germany time to deal with all this mess. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported Nord Stream 2, but she is no longer in office. New Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said that Nord Stream 2 cannot be approved “as is”.

That leaves the door wide open, but if companies like Vattenfall are successful, Russia will win the battle for Nord Stream 2 and lose the heat pump war.

The latest report from the International Energy Agency shows that interest in heat pumps is booming in the EU, with Germany becoming one of the top three markets.

Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.

Photo: High temperature air-to-air heat pump, courtesy of Vattenfall.

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