95% lower emissions: Sweden’s shift to heat pumps holds lessons for Canada

(The Energy Mix, 7 May 2023) Sweden’s early shift from fossil-fueled heating to electric heat pumps suggests a carrot-and-stick approach of incentives and regulation could help Canadians achieve the lowered costs and 95% drop in building heating emissions that Swedes have enjoyed since the 1990s.

“In the 1970s, three-quarters of Swedish homes were heated with oil boilers,” reports CBC News. But now, electric-powered heat pumps have almost entirely replaced oil in single-family homes, while most multi-family units rely on district heating.

The story of this remarkable transition was recounted last month at a symposium in Mississauga, Ontario, by Martin Forsén, a veteran in the Swedish heating industry and president of the European Heat Pump Association. He said a similar shift is inevitable for Canada.

“I don’t think it’s a question of ‘if,’ it’s just a question of when,” Forsén told his audience at the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) heat pump symposium.

But the 95% drop in home heating emissions in his country did not happen overnight, Forsén explained. The first six years of Sweden’s journey to electric heat—roughly 1994 to 2000—was “all about the money,” he said. It was a period when the heating industry and homeowners were preoccupied with comparing the costs of new technology versus the old—and often hesitating to make the leap.

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The Energy Mix, 7 May 2023: 95% lower emissions: Sweden’s shift to heat pumps holds lessons for Canada