Changing your home heating system is a complicated matter in Switzerland, involving much paperwork and significant administrative cost. To incentivise the installation of heat pumps, a more efficient form of electric heating, the canton of Vaud changed the rules to make it easier. A group of around 40 people, many with scientific backgrounds has challenged the move in court, describing it as an odd exemption making little sense, reported RTS.
Instead of a long drawn out application process, the government changed the rules on 1 August 2023 so that homeowners need only notify their municipality before installing a heat pump. No more onerous paperwork, thousands of francs of expense and months of waiting.
Proponents of the move point out that around two thirds of all home heating in the canton is still powered by gas and heating oil. The best way to phase out the use of fossil fuel for home heating is to make heat pumps the easy choice, they say. In addition, heat pumps consume a third to a quarter of the electricity of regular electric heating.
However, a group, including a number of scientists and building energy experts, has come out firmly against the change. Putting heat pumps on a pedestal as a miracle solution is a mistake, they argue. Heat pumps consume electricity, especially in winter when there is a risk of shortages. There is not enough electricity in Switzerland so the shortfall needs to be imported, in particular from nations that produce it using fossil fuels. This means heat pumps are not the clean source of heating many assume.
Pascal Cretton, one of the opponents and a building energy expert who voted Green explained that while heating oil is bad, putting a heat pump in a poorly insulated building is a disaster. The heat pump will consume an enormous amount of electricity in winter. Insulation should be the priority before considering a heat pump, he said.
In addition, every homeowner should be able compare all renewable heating alternatives neutrally. Other forms of renewable heating include wood and thermal solar panels. Opponents also argues the heat pump bias comes from the many economic interests behind the technology.
Marc Muller, an energy engineer supporting the change, says that insulating the current stock of poorly insulated housing would take 30 years and that the transition to clean energy can’t take that long, an argument that seems to imply that heat pump installation cannot commence until all of the housing stock is well insulated.
Christelle Luisier Brodard, a member of the Vaud government, says it is so difficult to install a heat pump that there are cases where homeowners prefer to install new heating oil burners.
Those opposing the change are not against heat pumps. They are arguing that insulation improvements should proceed their installation on a building by building basis. And they underline a key question: how do we produce enough clean electricity to avoid moving from fossil fuel to electricity made from fossil fuel?
The court will decide on the case between now and the end of the year.