The French (hi)story of heat pumps

The market for heat pumps is governed by a number of factors. It is affected by energy prices, legislation, the perceptions of the general public, and heat pump performance compared to the alternatives. This becomes obvious when looking at the fluctuation in the French heat pump market during the past three decades.

Since the eighties, when heat pumps first entered the French market, there has been three periods of increase in demand. In the first case, in the early 2000’s, the background reason for the increase was an uncertainty regarding energy prices. They were rising and considered unstable and volatile. One alternative was solar thermal systems, but they could not fully cover the demand for heating. Therefore, more heat pumps were sold and installed, although the total annual sales remained at a low number, at a few thousand units.

Market boom led to development – and mistakes
The second market increase was more of an explosion. From 2007 to 2008 the number of sold air-to-water heat pump units increased by over 150 %. If manufacturers and installers had managed to keep pace with the demand, the number would have been even higher. Again, energy price was one of the driving factors behind the increase. The unusually high oil prices made electricity-based heating more attractive, and this in combination with a tax reduction for heat pumps opened a market where many actors entered. Installers were educated, and a certification system was established. But maybe the boom was too dramatic. There were mistakes made during installations, leading to lowered comfort or high electricity costs for the end-user. When the oil prices dropped in 2009 and the subsidies were removed, the market decreased to the pre-2008 levels of just above 50 000 units annually,

The third market increase is happening at this moment. It started in 2012, when French building regulations limited the energy consumption of new buildings. This more or less ruled out electric systems for heating and paved the way for heat pumps. An added benefit is that heat pumps are considered clean by the market, with zero local emissions. With a share of 40 % in new buildings, heat pumps have become so common that they should be considered a mainstream solution for that application. There are multiple manufacturers offering heat pumps, and most installers have learned how to install them. The market for air-water heat pumps is still increasing.

Uncertain future heat pump development
This positive trend is not valid for all types of heat pumps, though. In particular, geothermal products are sold at very low volumes, only a few thousand a year. This may change in the coming years, but that remains to be seen.

So, what does the future for heat pumps look like in France? This is not easy to tell, of course. For new buildings, heat pumps should have the potential to remain the preferred solution, due to their performance in relation to regulations. If prices for fossil energy increases, also the existing buildings’ market could increase. Technical development should also be expected, leading to more efficient and attractive products. One thing is for sure: heat pumps offer many advantages that will make them highly popular in France for some years.

Thierry Nille, AFPAC (Association Française pour les Pompes A Chaleur)

This text is shortened by HPC.

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