July 14, 2024

beat the heat — The hunt for the most efficient heat pump in the world A new generation of engineers has realized they can push heat pumps to the limit.

Chris Baraniuk, WIRED.com – Jul 3, 2024 5:31 pm UTC EnlargeFHM/Getty Images reader comments 110

Outside a 100-year-old house on the edge of the Peak District in northern England, a heat pumps fan blades are swiftly spinning. Theyre drawing outdoor air over coils of refrigerant, harvesting warmth from that air. All air-source heat pumps do thisand they can glean heat even on cold days. But this heat pump is special. It is one of the most efficient installations of its kind in the country.

Im number two on there, fizzes owner Rob Ritchie, a retired chemistry teacher, referring to the systems position on HeatPumpMonitor.org, a kind of online leaderboard for heat pumps around the UK and beyond. I should say it isnt importantbut it is. Its nice being there.

At the time of writing, real-time data suggests that for every kilowatt-hour of electricity Ritchies heat pump consumes, it delivers 5.5 kilowatt-hours of heata coefficient of performance, or COP, of 5.5. Achieving a COP of 5 or above is absolutely incredible, says Emma-Louise Bennett, active transition support lead at Viessmann, the company that made Ritchies heat pump. In the UK, average heat pump COPs tend to be between 2 and 3.

For social-media-savvy plumbers and environmentally conscious home renovators who are increasingly sharing videos of their heating systems online, heat pumps are in vogue. In the race to decarbonize and curtail the devastating effects of climate change, switching home heating systems away from fossil-fuel-burning boilers and furnaces is essential. Heat pumps will be a key weapon in that fight, says the International Energy Agency. It estimates that, globally, heat pumps could reduce CO2 emissions by 500 million metric tonsequivalent to taking every car in Europe off the road.

A new generation of heating engineers has realized that they can push heat pumps to the limit. These installers are reaching astounding levels of efficiency by taking extra care to design low-temperature heating systems that warm rooms without using excess energy.

Heat pumps can offer multiple kilowatt-hours of heat per kilowatt-hour of electricity, thanks to physics. The refrigerant sealed inside the device evaporates readily when it is warmed even slightly, say by the outdoor air, and a compressor then pressurizes the warmed gas, which has the effect of heating it further. It only takes a little electricity to power this process, which can raise the refrigerants temperature by many degrees Celsius.

Since moving to his detached house near Sheffield about 10 years ago, Ritchie has installed loft insulation and solar panels, but the fabric of the building is not necessarily ideal for keeping the place toasty in an efficient way. The property has thin-cavity walls without much insulation in them, and Ritchie lives at 800 feet above sea level, meaning outdoor temperatures are generally relatively low. Thanks to his heat pump and solar panels, though, he estimates hes now saving 2,700 pounds ($3,420) on his utility bills annually. It goes to show that heat pumps can work well in older properties in challenging locations, he says.

The system was designed by local installer Damon Blakemore, who also checks HeatPumpMonitor.org regularly to see how his work stands up against that of his competitors. Ritchies heat pump is not quite in pole position at present, but it is noteworthy, emphasizes Blakemore, because once a years worth of data has accumulated this September, it could be the first air-source device on the leaderboard to achieve a 365-day seasonal COP, or SCOP, of 5. This is an average that reveals how well a heat pump has performed over an entire year. Weather changes between summer and winter, which shift demand for heating, tend to affect overall system efficiency, among other factors.

Blakemore is one of the SCOP-chasers, as Bennett puts it, driven to maximize the efficiency of the systems he installs. There is a small but highly visible group of such people in the UK who follow each other on Facebook and X, drop in on each others podcasts, and jostle for high rankings on HeatPumpMonitor.org. Among the stakeholders in this race for efficiency is Heat Geek, an organization that has trained multiple high-performing installersincluding Blakemore.

Its not really something we particularly anticipated, says Glyn Hudson, cofounder of Open Energy Monitor (OEM), which runs HeatPumpMonitor.org, referring to the casual competition emerging in the heating industry. But installers are proud of their work. They do enjoy showing off photos of their installations on social media. The pipework layout is very important to them. Page: 1 2 3 Next → reader comments 110 WIRED Wired.com is your essential daily guide to what’s next, delivering the most original and complete take you’ll find anywhere on innovation’s impact on technology, science, business and culture. Advertisement Channel Ars Technica ← Previous story Next story → Related Stories Today on Ars