Heat Pumps: Technology Brief


January 2013

Heat pumps are energy efficient devices for space and water heating. This brief focuses on heat pump technologies based on renewable energy sources.

Although the cost of heat pumps has fallen with growing market penetration, their contribution to space and water heating remains relatively modest outside a few countries. Space heating/cooling and hot water supply account for roughly half of global energy consumption in buildings, with demand growing especially fast in emerging economies. Yet most of this demand continues to be met through combustion of fossil fuels.

Efficient, renewable-based heat pumps can help to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. According to this analysis, they can provide three to six units of useful thermal energy for each unit of energy consumed. In comparison, traditional combustion-based heating systems only provide less than one unit of thermal energy for each unit of energy consumed.

The brief focuses on three key aspects of heat pump development:

  • Process and technology status;
  • Performance and costs;
  • Potential and barriers.

Successive technology briefs have highlighted a wide range of renewable energy solutions. Each brief outlines technical aspects, costs, market potential and barriers, combined with insights for policy makers on how to accelerate the transition to renewables.