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Mostra Convegno 2024 - Optimism and innovations breaking through the cloud of uncertainty in the European heating market

The 2024 edition of Mostra Convegno in a pleasantly sunny Milan (Lombardy, Italy) showed all the signs that the bi-annual trade fair almost returned to the pre-Covid ‘business as usual’ levels. Despite the challenges that have impacted the heating market in Europe, with sales of boilers plummeting by double digits and hydronic heat pumps seeing a 5% drop in 2023, the turnout at this event sparks hope for better days ahead for the industry.

There was plenty to look out for, although some large heating players – Ariston, Viessmann / Carrier (including Riello), Baxi, Bosch, Vaillant and Daikin – were noticeable by their absence.

Fuelled by extremely tasty and strong espressos (which would easily qualify as a ‘ristretto’ in most of the UK) we took on the huge task of surfing through the large visitor crowd to explore the latest trends and innovations in heating appliances.

After many discussions with boiler, heat pump and component manufacturers over two-full days, here are our main key takeaway points:

Once again, R290 heat pumps were everywhere

While the trend had already started for air-water heat pumps (monobloc models), it was clear at the event that R290 will become the main refrigerant for domestic hot water heat pumps and single split air-conditioning systems. On the latter, Gree and Mitsubishi Electric were showcasing a product following the likes of Midea / Clivet and Haier. For ground source heat pumps however, the Spanish manufacturer Ecoforest remains the only player to date with a heat pump running on R290 (up to 16kW), which is suitable for indoor installations.

Growing presence of Chinese players on the European heat pump market

Along with the well-established Asian headquartered AC manufacturers (e.g. Mitsubishi Electric, Samsung, LG), there was a noticeable strong presence of well-known Chinese manufacturers (e.g. Haier, Midea, Gree, Hisense). But more strikingly, there seems to be an endless influx of unknown / new (to us!) Chinese manufacturers coming to Europe, which confirms that Europe is the next market to conquer for these companies.

Increasing number of integrated systems / packages

These solutions, including more than just individual heating products were on display prominently throughout the show: heat pumps integrated with solar PV panels, batteries and EV chargers (potentially even white goods) offered on the respective manufacturers’ own platform, controlled, and managed by their own (proprietary) energy management systems. Interoperability across the spectrum of the various HVAC product brands seems to still be some time away, however.

Rise of all-in-one air-based heating + cooling + hot water solutions for specific use cases

Although Italians traditionally prefer hydronic heating, several Asian manufacturers showed air-air multi-split heat pumps providing domestic hot water (and cooling) as a potential solution for the Italian dwelling stock. These can be ideal for small houses/apartments with no hydronic heating located in climates where space heating need is limited (e.g. in Southern Europe). Such products are in the pipeline for some European OEMs too, so well worth watching this space…

Hybrid heat pumps have a long-term role to play in Europe

Several manufacturers were promoting the technology despite tough market conditions in Italy (-75% drop in sales in 2023). There was something for everyone – package hybrids for recessed or in-house installations, add-on to existing boilers and more. Of the exhibitors, Immergas created the buzz with its prototype ‘compact’ hybrid, which integrates a 1 kW R290 heat pump and a 25 kW gas boiler in one casing which operates without an outside unit.

In addition, Immergas was also showcasing a hybrid system combining a gas boiler and a multi-split air-air heat pump (patent pending). Midea was presenting a similar system, next to an indoor hybrid comprising a gas boiler and an air-water heat pump with no outside unit. The definition of what a ‘hybrid’ is seems to be ever evolving and expanding.

Boilers ready to run on low carbon gases

Gas-based heating systems were not predominantly displayed throughout the show, but they still have an important status, with the emphasis shifting towards low-carbon gases, more specifically hydrogen. For the first time in the history of this show, the organisers operated a Hydrogen Hub where ‘hydrogen for heating’ related developments were showcased (e,g, Hybitat’s electrolyser and battery combo).

The few boiler manufacturers exhibiting (Immergas, Cosmogas, Unical) proudly displayed their gas boilers and gas hybrids, putting a ‘hydrogen-ready’ spin on their products (even ‘hydrogen-blend ready’), ensuring that the visiting installers and general public were made fully aware that these gas appliances are worth considering, and they are ‘future-proof’ (in the case of the products that can operate fully on decarbonised gases). The same applied to the component suppliers, which displayed hydrogen-ready burners and related components on their stands, conveying the message that they are ready for the transition to low carbon gases, at least from the technical standpoint.

Uncertainty remains regarding refrigerant use

It was clear from our discussions that some uncertainty remains for the future of some technologies following the adoption of the new F-gas and the potential future PFAS restrictions under reach. VRF systems, split air-water and multi-split air-air heat pumps are still relying on R410A and R32 as they cannot transition to R290 because of limitations in flammable refrigerant charges. No alternative options were introduced in Mostra.

As the curtains went down on a an extremely busy Mostra Convegno, we were left to wonder, how will the 2024 heating market evolve in the extremely uncertain economic and political backdrop? When will we see the exciting new products available on the market and how successfully will these compete with the more established heating solutions? How will manufacturers respond to the tightening refrigerant regulations? What will be the impact in the EU heating market of the ongoing growing presence of Chinese brands, which are ready to supply a wide range of heat pump appliances? What is the short- to medium term prospect for low carbon gases in residential heating and what types of appliances will emerge as the preferred solution (hydrogen-ready boilers or hybrid heat pumps)?

Keep an eye on the work we do through LCP Delta’s Heat Services, as these topics will be the focus of our research agenda during the upcoming year.

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