Vattenfall Unleashes Heat Pump On The Netherlands And UK
The humble electric heat pump has developed into a climate protection hero, and the EU energy company Vattenfall is one of those who see the electrification lettering on the wall. Vattenfall has just teamed up with Feenstra to bring a new heat pump to market that can replace natural gas boilers without expensive retrofitting 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 travel from one place to another, namely from warmer places to cooler places. Heat pumps just take this ball and run with it.
The name “heat pump” is actually a bit misleading, because the same device can turn into reverse gear when the internal temperature is too warm and become an air conditioning system.
The effects of the heat pump trend on the building electrification movement are enormous. Much attention has been paid to freeing fossil fuels from the large, centralized power plants, but the decarbonization of individual buildings is also part of the plan to save the planet.
Here in the US, electricity players have started to internalize the idea that they can sell more kilowatts by encouraging their customers to ditch heating and boilers that run on fossil fuels in favor of a heat pump. This may have contributed to two utility companies ending their support for a new natural gas pipeline in North Carolina last year.
The US Department of Energy is a fan and released a report recruiting “Millions of Heat Pumps” to advocate for rapid decarbonization.
Vattenfall piles up on heat pump scramble
At least one fossil fuel stakeholder has already started hedging their bets on the building electrification movement. That would be Shell, which has teamed up with PassivSystems to introduce next-generation heat pump technology. In 2019, the two companies presented a new hybrid system that can switch between fossil energy and electricity depending on the weather.
No wonder, then, that the Swedish energy company Vattenfall has joined the heat pump rush, especially since it is separating from coal and natural gas. That transition is nowhere near complete, but Vattenfall is quickly gaining a foothold in floating solar, green hydrogen and other emerging technologies alongside its more conventional wind and solar investments.
Vattenfall has teamed up with Feenstra to bring its new all-electric heat pumps to market, starting with the Netherlands later this year.
A drop-in replacement for natural gas
The UK will be next in line for the 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 United Kingdom. The new heat pumps operate at high temperatures and are intended to replace heating systems that rely on natural gas to boil water, which then circulates as steam to radiators throughout the building. Systems like this 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 living in suburbs and rural areas,” explains Vattenfall. “They could enable households to replace their existing gas boilers without the additional expense and disruption of changing the rest of the heating system or installing additional insulation at the same time.”
Why conventional heat pumps are not enough, Vattenfall explains that heat pumps are normally operated between 45 and 55 degrees Celsius enough heat. The Vattenfall-Feenstra mashup falls in the range of 60 to 80 degrees Celsius, which is what gas boilers deliver.
More bad news for natural gas
As described by Vattenfall, heat pumps are not the ultimate one-size-fits-all solution for every building. The company uses them in suburban and rural areas where individual heat pump installations would be a relatively inexpensive alternative to building or retrofitting extensive distribution networks.
For more densely packed urban areas, Vattenfall supports district heating networks that are based on the collected waste heat.
None of this is good news for US natural gas advocates, who barely finished their celebrations after news fell that the US is expected to be the world leader in liquefied gas exports this year.
This is quite a turning point for the US. Prior to 2016, the country only exported natural gas from the lower 48 states to Mexico by pipeline. Maritime exports of LNG from the USA were not an issue until 2016.
“Liquefied natural gas (LNG) export capacities in the US have grown rapidly since the Lower 48 states first began exporting LNG in February 2016,” the US Energy Information Agency reported last month. “In 2019, the United States became the third largest LNG exporter in the world after Australia and Qatar. As soon as the new LNG liquefaction units, so-called trains, on the Sabine Pass and Calcasieu Pass in Louisiana go into operation by the end of 2022, the United States will have the world’s largest LNG export capacity. “
New gas export terminals have met fierce opposition in some cases, but that does not seem to have slowed the pace of activity. What is going to slow things down is a fall in demand, and that seems to get Vattenfall and other like-minded energy players on the way.
Heat pumps vs. the Nord Stream 2 pipeline
Natural gas is a particularly hot topic in the EU because, along with all the clutter about climate change, it also relies on gas imports from Russia. The Obama administration and members of Congress backed the relaxation of LNG export rules, in part on the theory that US gas would weaken Russia’s influence on EU energy markets.
Former President Donald Trump * took over the White House in 2016, allegedly with the support of a propaganda campaign attributed to Russia. If Russia expected Trump to repay the favor by curtailing LNG exports when he took office, they should have looked at the fine print. As expected, the Trump administration has happily increased the pace of LNG export activity.
The Trump administration may also have surprised people at Kremlin headquarters when it sent former Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Ukraine in 2019, where he officially confirmed US opposition to the proposed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a key project for Russian natural gas actors . Nord Stream 2 would bypass Ukraine and Poland to route gas directly from Russia to Germany.
The Biden government appears to have done the opposite and has opposed measures in Congress aimed at sanctioning Nord Stream 2. However, all may not be what it seems. The lobbying could serve to buy Germany time to deal with the whole mess. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel supported Nord Stream 2 but is no longer in office. The new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has stated that Nord Stream 2 cannot be approved “as is”.
That leaves the door open, but if companies like Vattenfall get their way, Russia will win the battle for Nord Stream 2 and lose the war over heat pumps.
The latest report by the International Energy Agency shows that interest in heat pumps is booming in the EU and that Germany is becoming one of the top 3 markets.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: High temperature air-to-air heat pump courtesy of Vattenfall.
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