The Italian heat pump market is one of the largest in Europe. And it keeps growing. In recent years it has increased dramatically: with 23 % in 2015 and 46 % in 2016. As many as 97 % of the heat pumps use air as their energy source and the rest are mainly ground-source devices. Lately, hybrid systems combining a gas boiler with a heat pump have entered the market and experience a positive trend.
The market growth is largely driven by governmental incentive mechanisms. One of the most important ones was introduced in 2014, offering a special tariff available for residential consumers using a heat pump as their main heating system. Other incentives include tax reduction when replacing an old heating system, and a grant for installation of a heat pump.
Potential and barriers for future growth
Even though the market has grown rapidlyfor some years, there is still room for continued growth. Compared to northernEuropean countries the use of heat pumps is not widely spread in Italy. Atypical index of market penetration is the number of sales for 1000 households.In Italy, that number is about 7, while for the Nordic countries it is up to 5times higher.
Thus, the potential looks great. But thereare also barriers. One of them is energy prices, where the price ratio between electricity and gas over the last three years has had an average of around 3, indicatingthat electricity is around 3 times more expensive per useful kWh. The heat pumpis the cheaper option when the seasonal performance factor is higher than the energy price ratio. Another barrier is lack of knowledge. Installers may not beaware of the advantages of the technology, and the consumer may only see the investment cost and not the advantages.
The relatively wide deployment of heat pumps is a large factor behind Italy reaching – and surpassing – the national target regarding share of renewable energy for 2020 already in the year 2014.Compared to combustion systems for heating and cooling, a heat pump is less pollutant, may be cheaper during its full life time, and eliminates the risk of fire or explosion due to a local combustion source.
Energy used for heating and cooling
In many places in Italy, the need for cooling exceeds the need for heating. Consequently, the majority of the installed heat pumps are reversible air-air devices, mainly used for cooling. But during the cooler season they are also sufficient for space heating needs in a large part of the country.
In addition to the reversible devices, there are also air-air heat pumps that are cooling-only. In Italy, it is not possible to determine the share of sales between these two types, and therefore it is not possible to determine how much energy is used for heating and how much for cooling. A study was made, concluding that less than 10 % of the air-to-air units should be included in the statistics and the calculation on heating. Even if the ratio of the various heat pump types would be known, it would still not be clear how much of the energy is used for heating and how much for cooling based on the rated capacity of the sold products. Therefore, it is assumed that in warm climates an average of 10 % of the possible heat pump hours of all sold air-to-air units are used for heating purposes.
Maurizio Pieve and Raniero Trinchieri, ENEA, Italy
This text is shortened by HPC.