From 2024, Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) wants to install at least 500,000 new heat pumps every year. It should be six million by 2030. Heat pumps are regarded as a crucial instrument for a heating transition, significantly more climate-friendly than oil and gas heating. But Habeck’s plans will not work in practice as in his theory, experts said in June. The building physicist Lamia Messari-Becker pointed out to the “Spiegel” that there was not only one problem, but rather many. For them, Habeck’s heat pump offensive is “madness”, “incomprehensible” and “wishful thinking” at the same time.
Tens of thousands of skilled workers would be missing for a mature heat pump offensive, delivery times were too long and there were already bottlenecks in production and installation. The Federal Ministry of Economics already admitted this in June. In view of the Ukraine war, people want to make themselves independent of Russian gas and are increasingly interested in heat pumps. As a result, manufacturers and installers could hardly keep up with demand more than two months ago. According to the German Energy Agency, installation usually takes between 12 and 18 months.
The consequence? “This increases the risk that we will soon have to import the devices from Asia,” says engineer and building physics professor Messari Becker to “Spiegel”. Rising imports would crowd out national production and endanger tens of thousands of jobs. After the so-called heat pump summit of the government, clear criticism came from the FDP. “Without additional craftsmen, the goal of installing 500,000 heat pumps per year remains a well-intentioned hope,” said FDP politician Sandra Weeser, chairwoman of the building committee in the Bundestag. Working conditions must be improved, said the German trade union federation of the “Tagesschau”. Habeck himself relies on immigration from abroad.
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Apart from the implementation of the plan, Messari-Becker complains that the federal government is concentrating on only one technology with its prioritization of heat pumps. “It is incomprehensible to me that it is still assumed that individual technologies could be a savior when it comes to energy,” says Messari-Becker, recalling the mistake of becoming largely dependent on Russian gas. “It is precisely this attitude that caused some of the problems that we now urgently need to solve.” A “heat summit” instead of a “heat pump summit” would have been appropriate, says the professor from the University of Siegen about the government meeting in June.
“Economics Minister Habeck should put an end to this wrong path,” says Messari-Becker. Because his plan already contains the next misconception: heat pumps would not bring the desired result in every building. While they are now a standard technology in new buildings, installing heat pumps in buildings that have not been renovated makes no sense at all. Because the replacement would only work if the existing buildings were well insulated, says Messari-Becker. In a survey conducted by the German Energy Agency, 70 percent of the energy consultants said that installing heat pumps regularly or very frequently makes no sense due to the way the building is designed. The vicious circle continues: If heat pumps are installed in unrenovated buildings, they would consume a lot of electricity on cold winter days and the costs would explode.
The government wants to promote climate protection with heat pumps. But even in this area, Habeck’s plan is not flawless, says the expert. She considers it “pure wishful thinking” that the government in its concept paper describes heat pumps as 100 percent climate-neutral. Because if green electricity and heat are not expanded at the same time, heat pumps would also be operated with imported coal electricity if the renewable energies are not sufficient. And currently, renewables only account for 50 percent of electricity production, Messari-Becker continues. “We have to find ways to generate renewable heat directly. Otherwise there is a risk of overloading the power grids,” she warns.