One task for prospective master craftsmen from Brandenburg is: Can you find the fault in the heat pump? The master students inspect the refrigeration circuit of a system that has become something of a political issue in Germany. “You first have to familiarize yourself with the new technology,” says master student Martin Scholz. “It becomes difficult in maintenance when it comes to finding errors.” This is exactly what he and his colleagues are learning in the heat pump laboratory of the Potsdam Chamber of Crafts, which is to be officially inaugurated at the end of August.

Specialists are in demand like never before when the slowed-down heating law is to be passed in September. Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) is convinced of the heat pump ramp-up despite the uncertainty among consumers, manufacturers and tradespeople. The goal of the federal government, which is promoting climate protection and wants to move away from fossil fuels: From 2024, at least 500,000 systems should go into operation every year.

“Demand for skilled workers is high”

But there is a lack of skilled workers in the trades, and there is a need to catch up when it comes to know-how. The many small and medium-sized craft businesses have so far been geared towards gas and oil heating, says Frank Ebisch, spokesman for the Central Association for Sanitary Heating and Air Conditioning (SHK). “The need for skilled workers is high.” According to this, around 60,000 plumbing and heating installers are missing in Germany. Since April, the federal government has launched a support program specifically for qualification around the heat pump.

The Federal Association of Heat Pumps, in which manufacturers, energy suppliers and craftsmen are represented, says: “There has to be a rethink in the crafts.” In any case, homeowners have to be prepared for waiting times at the moment. “If you’ve ordered a car, it won’t come within two weeks,” says association spokesman Ebisch.

The Heating Act is scheduled to come into force in 2024

Heat pumps draw heat from the environment, i.e. the air or the ground, and use it to heat the building. If sustainably generated electricity is used in the energy-intensive process, there is no environmental pollution from CO2 emissions.

The omens for the heating exchange project were difficult in view of widespread criticism of the legislative plans and disputes with the coalition partner FDP. Then the Federal Constitutional Court put the brakes on the traffic light coalition – a damper for the crafts too. The heating law is now to come to the Bundestag after the summer break and will come into force in 2024.

“People are worried”

In the current year, the demand for heat pumps has fallen significantly, and far fewer applications for funding have been received from the federal government than in 2022. In the first half of the year, 48,804 applications for funding for a heat pump were submitted to the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control – in the same period last year there were around twice as many been (97,766).

“People are unsure, there is a dent,” says the spokeswoman for the heat pump association, Katja Weinhold. In some households, oil or gas heating was quickly purchased. “We have also experienced that customers have canceled their order to get a heat pump,” says spokesman Ebisch from the SHK Central Association. As long as the law is hanging in the air, it will be difficult for customers to get legally reliable advice.

Association: Great demand for further training

Economics Minister Habeck expects a boost for the heat pump when the new subsidy stands for a heating exchange and a maximum subsidy rate of up to 70 percent – depending on income – is possible instead of the previous 40 percent. “If the applications can be made, I very much expect that the applications will come in large numbers,” Habeck told dpa on the sidelines of a company visit.

The Central Association for Sanitary, Heating and Air Conditioning speaks of a “push within the trade”. More than 80 percent of the companies deal with heat pumps, says Ebisch. The demand for further training is great. Manufacturers who are expanding their production capacities also offer their own training courses.

At Stiebel Eltron from Holzminden in Lower Saxony, for example, they say: “The appointments are very popular.” According to the company, 5,000 participants were counted last year, this year there should be 7,000 to 7,500. For example, Vaillant is looking for career changers and advertises on its website for retraining to become a heat pump specialist.

At the Potsdam Chamber of Crafts, the master students can experiment with different types of systems. “The heat pump is, among other things, the heating medium of the future,” says trainer Reinhold Illgen, who does a lot to ensure that the future master craftsmen also understand the physics of a heat pump. But such systems could not immediately replace all other heating systems.

Heat pumps are not equally suitable for everyone

According to the professional associations, air-to-water heat pumps, which are installed outside of houses and are cheaper to buy than geothermal or groundwater pumps, are in most demand. In an old building, for example, switching to a heat pump can be more difficult than in a newly built single-family home.

“If a house is not renovated and there are no new windows and good insulation, you pay a high electricity bill,” says association spokesman Ebisch. “Such a heat pump is only useful if it is individually adjusted to the customer’s house,” says Thilo J√§nsch, head of the education and innovation campus of the Potsdam Chamber of Crafts.

The budding master craftsmen from Brandenburg are prepared for a lot of advice and some uncertainties about replacing the heating system. Consumers are also likely to have questions about the level of electricity prices and the risks of electricity shortages if millions of electric cars are to be charged in addition to the heat pumps. The Federal Network Agency is working on regulations to avoid power outages. The master students in the course of the Potsdam Chamber of Crafts joke about it. The future scenario is: “Either read or heat,” says one of them and laughs.