This Norwegian man saw his electricity bills shrink after replacing his radiator with a heat pump.
Oyvind Solsta’s “light bulb” moment with heat pumps came upon reading that the heat they produce far exceeds the amount of electricity that goes in.
Installing a heat pump in his house in the hills of Oslo has greatly benefited the 56-year-old communications adviser for a railways company: improving his comfort, finances and climate footprint.
Norway is among the countries with the most heat pumps per capita, along with neighbouring Finland and Sweden.
“When I researched this, I read that a heat pump can generate the heat equivalent of three to four times the amount of electricity you put into it,” said Solsta.
“So just that fact made a light bulb go off above my head, thinking ‘This has to be clever’.”
Hundreds of thousands of Norwegians have had the same bright idea, including Crown Prince Haakon who has had heat pumps installed at his official residence.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) considers the technology as instrumental in combatting climate change as electric vehicles, since heating solutions generate some four billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, representing eight per cent of global emissions.
Do heat pumps work in cold climates?
The fact that Nordic countries, known for their harsh winters, are among the biggest users disproves the often-held assumption that the technology does not work when the temperature plummets.
The myth has fuelled resistance across continental Europe.
“There are a lot of false myths out there about heat pumps. Some oil and gas producing countries such as Russia, some people, some sectors, some businesses don’t want to see this transition,” explained Caroline Haglund Stignor, a researcher at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.
“Yes, heat pumps work in cold climates. Yes, heat pumps work in old buildings.”
To heat a home, heat pumps extract outdoor heat – which exists even in cold weather – and inject it indoors.
Early models did not include defrosting systems or variable speed compressors, which nowadays enable them to run more efficiently in a wider range of temperatures.
While their efficiency declines somewhat in cold weather, they are still more efficient and greener than other options, experts say.
Are heat pumps better than electric heating?
“This is a mature technology that works, proven to keep millions of homes warm every winter. But it’s a continuous development to make it even better,” Stignor said.
According to a study by the independent group Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), air source cold-climate heat pumps can be up to twice as efficient as electric heating when outdoor temperatures fall to -30 Celsius.
In France, heat pump detractors also argue they lead to higher electricity consumption, don’t work well in all conditions, such as poorly insulated homes, and require costly installation.
Oil and gas furnaces remain popular in many countries.
In Germany, coalition partners this year finally reached an agreement to ban fossil-based heating as of 2045.
The state now subsidises heat pumps, which in 2022 were used in just three per cent of homes, and sales are beginning to take off.
How are heat pumps helping Norwegians save money?
Contrary to many European countries, Norway has almost no district heating, and banned oil furnaces in January 2020.
To keep warm during its cold winters, the country relies primarily on its abundant and clean electricity, thanks to its vast hydropower resources.
By producing about three to five kWh of thermal energy for every kWh of electricity consumed, heat pumps are instruments for energy efficiency – a key aspect of the fight against climate change – and also allow consumers to make major savings.
After replacing his electric radiator with an air-to-air heat pump two years ago, Solstad saw his electricity bills shrink.
“In the first four months, our consumption decreased by 20 per cent compared to the previous year even though we bought an electric car in the meantime,” he said.
While his initial investment may seem costly, at around €2,500 including installation, he thinks it will pay for itself “in just a few years”.
As an added bonus, his heat pump works as an air conditioner in summer.
When electricity prices went through the roof last year during the energy crisis brought on by the war in Ukraine, sales of heat pumps hit a record high in Norway, jumping by 25 per cent.
The trend continued in the first half of this year.
“Norwegians have understood that they can expect higher electricity prices in the coming years compared to the past,” explained Rolf Iver Mytting Hagemoen, head of the Norwegian Heat Pump Association (NOVAP).
“And energy efficiency is an increasingly hot issue,” he said.