Air source and ground source heat pumps are proving a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, as they are highly efficient. Heat pumps extract power from natural, sustainable sources and convert it into energy to heat the home. They are typically three times more efficient than gas boilers, but use some electricity to run. Heat pumps work out cheaper even though the price of fuel has risen significantly. The government says it intends to look at measures to ensure heat pumps do not cost more to run than gas boilers.
Ongoing efforts to encourage the take up of heat pumps has been relatively successful, although progress is slightly slower than hoped, for a variety of reasons. The industry has recently had a huge boost with the arrival of super-sized heat pumps.
The war in Ukraine has forced many countries including the UK, to avoid using Russian gas and seek alternative sources. Super sized heat pumps could address numerous problems for homes and businesses. Gateshead and London are the locations for two huge schemes involving these colossal pumps.
At one site in Gateshead, a borehole descends 150m beneath the mud to what was once an active coal mine. The mine, as with other disused mines, is now flooded with naturally warm water at around 15c. A giant heat pump is installed nearby, and the warmth from the mine is transferred to the heat pump system. The water temperature is elevated to 80c using a series of clever processes, before being sent through a network of pipes. These pipes lead to local homes or businesses who benefit from the heat produced. The warm water is then returned to source via the same system of pipes, and the process is repeated. The set up is equivalent to the way smaller systems work when installed in people’s homes.
The super-sized heat pump in Gateshead, when working at full capacity can provide heating and hot water for approx 5,000 homes. It’s encouraging to see that the negative legacy of coal mining has been transformed into something positive. It’s an exciting prospect to imagine the future if these eco-friendly assets can be utilised on a vast scale.
Properties connected to the green district heating scheme use heat exchangers instead of boilers. When the heat arrives from heat pumps, it is routed through water pipes and used in kitchens and bathrooms along with radiators. Those using the new systems say that any upheaval involving pipework etc is well worth it. They say their homes are much warmer and fuel bills much lower, a major concern for many.
As most people know, gas prices have skyrocketed in the last year, and there are many concerns that people will suffer fuel poverty due to this. Many feel that action is needed now, in order to limit the negative effects experienced by the population. On the subject of green district heating schemes, CEO of EON UK, Michael Lewis, says: “They fundamentally change the landscape, “It means we get off natural gas, so not only is that a benefit for the climate, it also means our energy prices are no longer tied to the volatile international gas market.”
EON has already installed super-sized heat pumps in the heart of London behind the Port of London Authority building. Over the years, the facility named Citigen, has provided energy using first coal, then oil and more recently gas. It now aims to supply renewable energy using warm water from an aquifer that sits under the city. Even the electricity used to operate this system is renewable, and will provide lots of green heating. Almost a quarter of our greenhouse gases are produced while heating the UK’s 30 million buildings. Another advantage is that the systems are not limited to areas which have underground water. The government are hoping to have 600,000 heat pumps installed per year by 2028, to contribute towards achieving net zero emissions by 2050.