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U.S. Manufacturing of Heat Pumps for Europe

PBP1 | Posted in General Questions on

The article “Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom” argues that the US should make heat pumps for Europe, anyone want to weigh in on pros/cons?

Seems like the basic premise is that Europe has excess capacity from nuclear power plants that can displace direct use of gas for heating.  Having lived in northern Europe with winters having months straight of rain/clouds every day (Dec/Jan) and with most of the US south of Paris, France, seems like solar for northern European winters would shave off a minimal amount of heat pump grid electric.  Thus, the argument appears to be pro-nuclear/electric ASHP – to replace direct gas to water boilers.

From article:
“New technology—affordable and workable—means Europeans can heat their homes with electricity instead of gas. And if we wanted to we could—before next winter comes—help enormously in this task. President Biden should immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to get American manufacturers to start producing electric heat pumps in quantity, so we can ship them to Europe where they can be installed in time to dramatically lessen Putin’s power.”

* * *

“At first some of the electricity to run the heat pumps will come from gas–but heat pumps are much more efficient than gas boilers, so even that will reduce use. (Germany would also have good reason to keep its nuclear reactors going a few more years, something it may now be studying.)”

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  1. paul_wiedefeld | | #1

    I’m not sure if the US should step in exclusively (Samsung from South Korea and Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, etc. from Japan are more than capable), but the logic is sound. Heat pumps are more efficient at turning gas into heat than gas burnt directly is. Plus with all the other sources in the mix, it would be cleaner. Seems like an easy call for something most people never think about.

    1. PBP1 | | #2

      Thanks for the input. However, isn't gas to electricity less efficient than direct gas? I think the equation works for excess nuclear electric?

      1. paul_wiedefeld | | #3

        Nope! New combined cycle gas is ~ 50% efficient so even with line losses, a heat pump with a COP >= 2 beats gas. I don’t know the specific heat rate of Europe’s gas plants but it’s probably in electric’s favor.

        1. PBP1 | | #9

          Thanks again, seems like gas to electric w/trans and dist losses ranges from about 35% to 55%. Thus, minimum COP of 2 or 3.

          I've seen some Swedes commenting on the idea, they are not so fond of it. From my time living in Europe, I had the impression that Europe had more heat pump usage than US - but Europe is a big diverse place.

          "In 2019, Sweden had approximately 1.9 million heat pumps in operation, of which, roughly 1.3 million were aerothermal heat pumps. In the same year, the 28 European Union members had approximately 40 million heat pumps in operation."

          There are 4.8 million households in Sweden, which may infer about 30% are already using heat pumps.

          In the US, a 2015 chart/map is attached from EIA, which shows for "cold/very cold" part of the US, heat pumps are at about 5% (or less?) of the 42 million households, 2.1 million.

          Seems like the US could learn from Sweden and not vice versa?

          Germany has about 40 million households and: "In 2019, Germany had 1.2 million heat pumps in operation, of which, roughly 762 thousand were aerothermal heat pumps. In the same year, the 28 European Union members had approximately 40 million heat pumps in operation."

          "About 9.4 percent of Germany's total CO2 emissions in 2018 went on keeping 83 million people's homes warm and supplied with hot water." And, about 2.2% (2019) of 40 million households in Germany use electric heat pumps = 880,000 electric heat pumps in Germany. But new heating equipment is running at 31% electric heat pumps.

          How about heat pump dryers, lessons from Europe?

          Also attached EU "Heat pump stock per 100 people in 2019"

      2. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #4

        That would be the case with electric resistance heat, but with a heat pump, the "coefficient of performance" means you get more heat output per unit energy input compared to electric resistance. The reason for that is that while an electric heating element CONVERTS all the input electric energy to thermal energy, a heat pump uses the input electric energy to MOVE heat from outdoors (instead of MAKING heat). As long as it's above absolute zero outside, there is thermal energy to scavange for this process. It's not a perfect process though, so the colder it gets outside the lower your overall system efficiency gets. With newer heat pumps, you'll typically come out ahead even in pretty cold weather though.

        The issue is that the majority of new electric generation in Europe is supplied by natural gas generation. They have closed most of their coal plants, and also a number of their nuclear plants. I recently read an article that the nuclear plant operators in Germany have said the plants are too far into the decommissioning process to be restarted in a reasonable time frame, if at all. Coal plants would likely be easier to restart, or convert back to coal (some have been converted to burn natural gas instead of coal).

        I don't know why they shut their nuclear plants. It's always a problem to be overly dependent on any one energy source. Even without the current conflict, there could have been a major storm or other natural disaster that could have disrupted the supply of natural gas, so it's important to remember that the potential for supply problems is always there. Right now, there are plans being expedited for LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) terminals being built around Germany so that US natural gas can be supplied. I suspect those terminals are at least a few years away though, and LNG plants and terminals would have to be built in the US too to supply the LNG.

        Aside from those issues, I don't really see a problem with a sort of "heat pump Marshall plan". It could potentially help rebuild some industry in the US, provided it wasn't funded by additional US debt.


  2. Trevor_Lambert | | #5

    The whole idea is pretty goofy. Think about all the logistical and bureaucratic hurdles to get through before such a plan could be implemented and having a noticeable effect.

    Are there really many American heat pumps anyway? Aren't most of the US brands just re-badged Chinese heat pumps?

    1. charlie_sullivan | | #7

      There are plenty of old-school heat pumps produced by companies like Carrier and Trane which still have some manufacturing in the US and/or Mexico. New cold climate models and mini-splits are more often are re-badged Asian units, or at least use an Asian compressor and inverter.

      But even if there are high-performance cold-climate units, they are probably for central ducted systems where Europeans more often need hydronic or mini-split options, and the European manufacturers are often ahead of us in providing appropriate air-to-water units. If Enertech could ramp up their production of their new Advantage air-to-water units, that would be one option, and I'd certainly support doing that, sending them to Europe for a few years and then being ready to produce them in huge quantities for converting houses in New England.

  3. JC72 | | #6

    ROF. This is just silly.

  4. jberks | | #8

    I believe home heating is only about a quarter of Europe's energy requirements.

    and even then, electricity still needs to be generated by NG to power the grid to power these proposed heat pumps.

    Its nice to think about, but my personal opinions is it won't be near enough to achieve non-reliance on fossil fuels from Russia.

    I'm all for a future style of house that has PV's+battery+grid, for main electrical usage including heat pumps for HVAC and water heating. With the idea that homes can be mostly self sufficient with minimal-moderate reliance on the grid. I'm just waiting for the cost benefit of PV's to get to the right ratio for this to make sense. Unfortunately, this is taking its sweet time.

    Also, hopefully at some point later on than that, every house will have its own micro nuclear generator and be totally self reliant and green.

    Until then, it looks like we still mostly need fossil fuels for the average home.

    And its looking like Europe's reliance on Russian energy has allowed for some pretty crazy shit to go on in the world.

    Just my thoughts,


  5. richmass62 | | #10

    US manufacturing needs some serious incentives for better technology in heat pumps produced here. It would be nice to see incentives for building the factories that scaled up with the efficiency of the units that were produced. Especially for cold climate which seem to be produced mostly in Asia.

    Also there is an untested concept out there to use electric heat pumps to heat phase change materials (or even rocks) to store heat. The Sunamp systems can do this in the UK. The concept of having a central area of the house at 75 degrees with some radiant heat coming from an energy storage device may in the end cost less than trying to get the whole house up to 68 evenly.

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