Heat pump installer Patrick Schimmel from Barneveld decided on Wednesday to close this year’s agenda: anyone who wants to order a heat pump from Schimmel Techniek can only contact him again in 2023. Until October, the showroom’s agenda is full, with three to five appointments a day. “We can no longer handle the crowds, and people are starting to get almost annoying because they sometimes have to wait for months,” says Schimmel. “The demand for heat pumps has exploded and we can no longer provide the service that is expected of us. So we have to take these steps, unfortunately.”
The problems at Schimmel Techniek are not isolated. High consumer demand, in combination with material shortages and increased energy prices, makes making a home more sustainable and more expensive than before. Consumers are faced with higher prices or longer delivery times for things such as heat pumps, solar panels, double glazing and facade insulation. A sum, says Reinier Schneider, director of the Regional Energy Desk (REL). With his organization he acts as a link between seventy municipalities, companies and homeowners who want to make their homes more sustainable.
“The high energy prices are leading to a lot of interest among homeowners in energy-saving measures. Add to that the subsidies from the government for heat pumps and insulation material. The payback period for sustainability is much shorter due to this combination, which greatly boosts demand.”
People are almost starting to get annoying because sometimes they have to wait for months
But the long wait times in the sector are also the result of changes on the supply side. Lockdowns have closed some factories and major ports in China, making essential parts difficult or unavailable. Schneider: “And that is on top of the staff shortage in the construction industry. Construction and installation companies have been overworked for years. It’s really crazy now.”
According to director Sander Noordermeer, SolarNRG, which supplies and installs solar panels, has been “busy” for months. It takes his company a lot of time and effort to get the necessary materials. “Factories in Shanghai are closed, and a previous lockdown in Shenzhen has also disrupted supply.” That is difficult for SolarNRG, because the chips for inverters, which convert direct current from solar panels into alternating current, and the panels themselves come from China.
Noordermeer: “We are also faced with a shortage of installers. There are initiatives from the training centers, but of course it takes a while before new people are trained. In the meantime, we can just keep up with the high demand.”
Anyone who orders solar panels from Noordermeers company today must wait at least three months for installation. “I don’t think the storm will pass in a few months,” he predicts. “Normally you have to deal with one problem, now we have to solve four or five problems at once. Raw materials are becoming more expensive, it also costs much more money to ship a container. The unrest will continue for a while.”
Installation was not the problem for Rick van den Bos. Since the end of February, 25 solar panels have been installed on the roof of his home in Baarn. But it was an “unpleasant surprise” that the installer showed up on the day without an inverter. Van den Bos: „The sun has been shining for more than four weeks, and we have not been able to take advantage of that. And there is still no prospect of delivery. It could be tomorrow, but also in two months. I almost hate the sun.”
He doesn’t blame his installer. After calling around, Van den Bos discovered that other installers didn’t have an inverter in stock either. “It’s really a market problem, but it’s frustrating.”
The heat pump market is also struggling with material shortages and long waiting times. Wholesale Rensa Heating and Ventilation, which supplies heat pumps to the business market, “sees that there is a demand that cannot be fully met,” says the spokesperson. “It’s not that you can’t get a single heat pump from us anymore, but across the entire chain there is much more demand than stock.”
In order to solve the material shortage as effectively as possible, Rensa is looking for alternatives together with installers. “We are looking for technical solutions for which the material is available, and we are also trying to overhaul parts to reuse raw materials.”
Material shortages play a part, but it is mainly “the explosion of demand”
According to GreenSources Nederland, an importer of heat pumps from Austria, the biggest problem is that the production capacity can hardly meet the current demand. “We are currently inundated with applications,” said the spokesperson. “As a result, our delivery time has increased from about two months to six months. We understand from colleagues that delivery times can be considerably longer there.”
Material shortages, such as the lack of chips and the lack of supply that arose during the corona crisis, play a role, according to GreenSources, but it is mainly “the explosion in demand for heat pumps” that increases delivery times. To keep up with the higher demand, the pump manufacturer in Austria has more than doubled the number of employees to 750.
Insulation has also become more expensive. Glass wool, used to insulate roofs and cavity walls, has risen sharply in price in recent months due to the more expensive oil. Benzene, an oil product that is important for the production of insulation material, has also become more expensive as a result. The prices of flat glass, used for double glazing, also increase with the higher energy rates; a lot of gas is needed for production.
And waiting times for insulation are also increasing. Reinier Schneider of the Regional Energy Desk: “I have to make a lot more calls than before to find an insulation party for our projects. I even spoke to a company that couldn’t plan until the second quarter of 2023.”
Where insulation companies normally go through quiet summer months, the busy season now continues. Schneider: “This is where the pressure comes from a lack of good advisory and executive staff. Delivery problems are not really an issue, there is simply a shortage of people.”
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Finally, as in any demand market, scarcity drives prices up. A major heat pump manufacturer recently raised its prices by 10 percent, and announced another 10 percent price hike for this summer. Solar panels have become about 10 percent more expensive, Schneider estimates.
The customers are grumbling. “I still understand the first price increase, but the second cannot be calculated,” says installer Patrick Schimmel.
Despite the high prices and long waiting times, REL advises people to continue to orientate and request quotes. “We have to adjust expectations about delivery times together,” says Schneider. “But it’s not to say that prices or delivery times will go down again at the end of the year – they might as well go up further. And the pressure on labor will continue for years to come. There is no reason to postpone sustainability.”
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper of May 14, 2022