Energy crisis drives demand for heat pumps and wood stoves

Energy crisis drives demand for heat pumps and wood stoves
Credit: Belga/Siska Gremmelprez

As the skyrocketing energy prices are making Belgian residents look for other ways to warm their homes ahead of the winter, the demand for heat pumps has risen significantly, but so has the sale of less ecological alternatives such as fireplaces and wood stoves.

In the first half of 2022, 13,700 heat pumps were sold, compared to 17,000 in the entire previous year, figures from the Association for Thermal Techniques in Belgium (ATTB) show. Most popular are those that extract heat from the air (10,000 units), but the largest increase was noted for pumps that extract heat from groundwater (3,700 units in the first half of 2022, compared to 3,850 in all of 2021).

"Whether the high gas prices are causing more people to discard their gas boilers. That effect will probably not be felt until next year," energy expert Dorien Aerts (VITO/EnergyVille) told De Morgen, adding that she suspects that the advance is mainly due to the installation of heat pumps in newly-built homes.

"About three in ten people opted for this until recently. Which is still low, because installing a heat pump in a newly-built house should be a no-brainer," she said.

Burning wood is bad for air quality

Fireplaces and wood stoves have also started gaining in popularity again, according to manufacturers, which are running at full capacity, and still struggling to keep up with demand.

"It is just as busy now as in winter. We are seeing an enormous increase in demand, both in the Benelux and beyond," said Frederik De Belder, sales and marketing manager at the Belgian fireplace and stove manufacturer Dovre.

While using wood and pellet stoves to heat your home in winter is undoubtedly better for your wallet with the current energy prices, ecologically speaking, it is not good news.

"Wood burning has a very negative effect on air quality," Bernard De Potter, spokesperson for the Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) told De Standaard. "For example, four important substances are released during wood combustion: particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), PAHs, with the carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene, and dioxins."

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According to the VMM, a modern wood-burning stove emits about 90 grams of particulate matter per gigajoule of heat. For a pellet stove, that is about 60 grams, for an old wood stove or fireplace about 800 grams.

By way of comparison: a gas boiler produces 2.2 grams of particulate matter for the same amount of heat. "Even the most modern and cleanest appliances have a much greater impact than gas boilers and heat pumps," says air quality expert Wouter Lefebvre (VITO).

Additionally, woodburning is responsible for 60% of the environmental and health costs caused by heating in Flanders, while only 20% of households burn wood, according to the most recent VMM calculations.

All in all, a fireplace is about 250 times more harmful than a modern gas boiler, a more recent wood or pellet stove five to 12 times, said Lefebvre. "Woodburning seems like a cheap alternative, but the environmental and health costs are not included in the price."

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