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How France surged ahead with heat pump installation

The Local France
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How France surged ahead with heat pump installation
A heat pump at a house. Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

A combination of grants for householders, subsidies for businesses and a strong domestic electricity market has allowed France to surge ahead with the installation of the energy-efficient heat pumps in homes, a new report shows.

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France has increased its rate of heat pump installation by 34 percent in the past two years, with 3.1 million pumps installed in 2021 and 2022 alone - a rate unmatched in any European nation.

While France still lags behind the countries that were the earliest adopters of heat pumps - Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Estonia - it now has the 6th highest percentage of homes with a heat pump in the EU, and if present trends continue this will number will rapidly expand.

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France has also installed 10 times the number of heat pumps as the UK - despite both countries having a population of around 67 million people. 

READ ALSO How to install a heat pump in your French property

France currently has 4,586 heat pumps per 100,000 people and annual sales of heat pumps since 2011 show notable spikes with the introduction of new incentives or grants. 

Graphic from the MSC report Heat pump installation in France and the UK

The UK-based non-profit organisation MSC has published a comparative study on the installation rates of heat pumps in France versus the UK.

It concludes the France's success is down to some pre-existing factors such as strong preference for electrical over gas heating systems and a domestic air conditioning industry that was able to expand into heat pumps, coupled with a succession of government initiatives to encourage households to install heat pumps, particularly grant schemes such as FranceRenov that give up to €10,000 per household to help with installation costs, and new energy-efficiency standards for new-build homes. 

Heat pumps, which work by swapping warm air for cool air, are extremely energy efficient, so as well as being good for the environment they drastically cut household heating/air conditioning bills.

They are, however, very expensive to install, which is why countries that see high installation rates usually have some kind of government financial aid in place to help householders with the initial installation costs. 

The MSC report looks at three key areas for French success;

Existing energy markets

France is unusual within Europe in that the vast majority of its electricity comes from its domestic nuclear industry, which successive governments have been supporting ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s. 

The combination of domestic production and the largely state-owned electricity giant EDF means that electrical heating systems were generally preferred to gas even before the invention of heat pumps. This meant that it was easier to switch heating systems over the heat pumps.

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Likewise France, especially the south with its hot summers, already had a domestic industry around the manufacture and installation of air-conditioning, which was able to be expanded into heat pumps.

Building standards

In 2012 France brought in new energy efficiency standards for new-build homes (excluding apartment blocks) known as Régulation thermique.

It meant that new-build houses were limited to a primary energy demand of 50kw/sq m per year. Once this regulation was in place, the number of heat pumps installed in new-builds tripled.

Incentives

The big spikes in heat pump installation can be seen when the French government rolled out financial incentives for households such as grants to help with installation costs and subsidies for businesses. 

In 2019 the government redesigned the financial aid available to create up-front grants to home-owners to cover heat pump installation costs. This has resulted in an 80 percent increase in installations since 2019.

If you combine grants through the Ma Prime Renov scheme - which offers financial aid for all sorts of renovation projects - and the Certificats d'Economies d'Energie which require energy companies to offer final aid, low-income households can benefit from up to €10,000 to help with heat pump installation costs, middle-income households €9,000 and higher-income households €4,000. Most of the financial aid is only available for primary residences. 

Industry

The heat-pump industry has also received government support and financial aid. It now directly employs 32,000 people and is worth €5.3 billion. 

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