Natural refrigerant heat pumps are needed to achieve REPowerEU targets, according to Davide Sabbadin, Policy Manager for Climate and Energy at European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the European Union has been working to reduce its reliance on Russian oil and gas under its REPowerEU plan. Efforts include decarbonizing heating and cooling, which are major consumers of energy across the continent.

While heat pumps play a vital role in meeting the EU’s decarbonization targets, they can require building renovations – such as replacing radiators with underfloor heating – which aren’t always possible. However, high-temperature heat pumps – heat pumps with output temperatures above 55°C (131°F) – provide a practical option for those unable to carry out retrofit projects, explained Sabbadin.

As the majority of heat pumps being installed over the next year will be in buildings that are not renovated, high-temperature heat pumps are vital, he said, adding that due to their thermodynamic properties, natural refrigerants are the best option for high-temperature heat pumps.

Sabbadin delivered these remarks during his presentation in the Commercialization of Natural Refrigerant Heat Pumps session at the ATMOsphere (ATMO) Europe Summit 2023. The conference took place September 19–20 in Brussels and was organized by ATMOsphere, publisher of

‘Heat pumps are for all buildings’

According to Sabbadin’s presentation, 6–7% of Europe’s fossil fuel-based boilers need to be replaced each year. This presents consumers with the choice of purchasing a new gas or oil boiler or opting for a heat pump.

“There has been a lot of bad press about heat pumps in some countries, [and] there exist misconceptions and preconceived notions about their effectiveness,” said Sabbadin. “However, high-temperature heat pumps are energy-efficient, can generate higher output temperatures and offer precise temperature control.”

Heat pumps are suitable for various domestic applications and can help reduce utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions while also enhancing thermal comfort and quality of life, he explained.

“Heat pumps are for all buildings,” he added.

To ensure the widescale adoption of natural refrigerant heat pumps, Sabbadin said that the EU needs to advance the bans of f-gases, introduce compulsory training in natural refrigerant based-technologies and expand financial incentives.

“Subsidies for heat pumps should be tailored around the degree of climate and environmental benefits,” he explained. “Only climate- and environmental-proof technology should be supported in the mid-term.”

“Subsidies for heat pumps should be tailored around the degree of climate and environmental benefits. Only climate- and environmental-proof technology should be supported in the mid-term.”

Davide Sabbadin, European Environmental Bureau

Real-world benefits

To get a better understanding of the real-world benefits of high-temperature heat pumps, the EEB has been conducting interviews with homeowners that have recently installed the technology in their homes without renovation.

At a detached house in northern Italy, the homeowner has seen a 30% reduction in energy costs after replacing their gas boiler with an isobutane (R600a) high-temperature heat pump. The ground-source heat pump was installed in combination with solar photovoltaics (PVs), and the cost of the heat pump was fully covered by subsidies.

Residents of a 12-unit apartment complex in northern Italy have reduced their heating costs by 50% with the installation of a ground-source R600a-based heat pump. Around 60% of the cost of replacing the building’s aging oil boiler was covered by subsidies; the remaining 40% was funded via a bank loan. Residents expect to see a ROI in roughly five years, explained Sabbadin.

In the Alps, owners of a detached house replaced its oil boiler with an R600a-based high-temperature heat pump, along with installing solar PVs and new windows. In doing so, the homeowner reduced its oil consumption from 1,000l to zero and the majority of the electricity used to power the heat pump is produced by the solar panels.

An air-to-water propane (R290)-based heat pump with a back-up gas boiler has reduced the gas consumption of a 1900s rural house in northern Italy by 90%, according to Sabbadin’s presentation. Solar PVs were also installed to help power the new heat pump.

Additional desk research conducted by the EEB has indicated demonstration projects in Ireland and Greece have seen energy savings of up to 70% and emissions reductions of around 30% thanks to the installation of high-temperature heat pumps.

Sabbadin added that the EEB is interested in hearing from other homeowners who have recently installed natural refrigerant heat pumps.