Thursday, December 22, 2005

Heat pumps could slash UK need for gas imports

Why argue with a technology that gives you 300% back for what you put in?

Because that's what heat pumps do, and the Low Carbon Kid thinks we ought to see many more of them.

Heat pumps are low carbon technology which have huge potential for the UK and Europe.

Europe had installed 4,531 MW of heat pumps - 379,183 units - by the end of last year, an increase of 20% over 2003, according to the latest Barometer produced by the EurObserv'ER consortium. 33,000 systems are also installed in Switzerland.

Sweden tops with 185,531 systems installed with 1,700 MW of thermal capacity, followed by Germany with 48,662 systems (633 MW-t), Austria with 30,577 (612), France with 49,950 (550) and Finland with 30,000 systems (300 MW-t of capacity).

The UK has a long way to go.

What are heat pumps?

Heat pumps are like backwards fridges. They're simple, proven and reliable.

They use a 'coolant' to suck heat energy from a large volume, usually the ground, but it can be a body of water, and concentrate it in a small volume - like a central heating system.

Since any mass above absolute zero has some heat, even what feels cold can provide a heat source.

(Not to be confused with deep-bore geothermal electric and geothermal direct-use thermal energy.)

Naturally you need an electricity source to pump the heat out. Your electrical input gives, on average, 3 to 4 units of energy back for every one put in.

Fossil-based and nuclear electricity typically loses two thirds of its primary energy in generation and delivery, so the heat pump needs to be very efficient to make savings, but ideally a renewable electricity tarriff or independent supply should be used.

Space heating accounts for 29% of all energy use in the UK. Deployment of this technology would therefore reduce the need for imported gas.

Experts say that if the European earth energy heat pump sector can maintain an average annual growth rate of 10% until 2010 "it could reach a capacity of 8,000 MW".

The objectives in the EU white paper of 5,000 MW, including 2,500 MW-t of heat pumps for the 15-member EU, were exceeded last year.

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