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Air Source Heat Pumps - Heroes or Villains

Air Source Heat Pumps - Heroes or Villains

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Published by An Huynh
Extracted from Building Sustainable Design Magazine, July 2009. For educational/personal use only. Also available for download at http://www.bsdlive.co.uk/
Extracted from Building Sustainable Design Magazine, July 2009. For educational/personal use only. Also available for download at http://www.bsdlive.co.uk/

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Published by: An Huynh on Jul 18, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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05/18/2010

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TECHNICAL 32
BSD JULY2009 /
ISSUE 06
ASHP do not deserve their reputation as a low-carbontechnology, argues
David Strong.
Oh yes they do,counters
Max Halliwell
overleaf.
      T      E      C      H      N      I      C      A      L
AIR SOURCEHEATPUMPSHEROES OR VILLAINS?
benefits has grown so, inevitably, have themarketing promises. There are claims thatair source heat pumps (ASHP) provide a“low-carbon technology” for all spaceheating needs, with manufacturers statingcoefficients of performance (COPs) up to 4.There is, however, a basic flaw that noone is talking about, and it’s to do with theUK climate – specifically when outsidetemperatures fall below about 5C, as in abig proportion of a typical British winter.Most of these systems are based ontechnology originally designed for air-conditioning. Little objective, reliable,independent performance data is availableon the seasonal performance of the latesttechnology being installed in the UK.Despite this, ASHP have been classified bythe Department for Business, Enterprise &Regulatory Reform as a renewable low-carbon technology and three manufacturersare listed in BRE’s Green Book as providing“approved products”, which are eligible forgrants from the government’s Low CarbonBuildings Programme.BRE has tested ASHP performance indifferent operating conditions in thelaboratory, and the Energy Saving Trust isplanning performance trials. Meanwhilethere is a conspicuous lack of independentdata on actual seasonal performance.Trials in the 1970s and early 1980sfound a significant amount of energy waswasted via evaporator defrosting. Ice build-up on the evaporator is a serious problemfor ASHP, typically occurring when outdoorair temperatures fall below about 5C (ashigh as 7C for some systems). In extremeconditions COPs fall to less than 1 (ie, worsethan direct-acting electric heating).The most common way of removingthe ice is for the heat pump control systemto switch the unit into a reverse cycle mode.Then the outdoor heat exchanger
I
was involved in the development ofthe first generation of air source heatpumps in the late 1970s. It was anexciting new technology – a simpleway to absorb heat from outside a buildingand use it to warm the inside, and smallerand easier to install than its soil-coveredcousin, the ground source heat pump.The technology took some seriousknocks in the 1980s because of reliabilityissues and failure to deliver on its promises.Today, there are many applications where itcan contribute to energy efficiency. Whenused for swimming pool heating in spring,summer and autumn, for example, a well-designed system can be very cost-effectiveand deliver significant carbon savings. Airsource systems can also be effective inrecovering energy from building extractsystems and industrial processes.As awareness of their potential
Professor David Strong,CEng, FEI, FCIBSEChief executiveInbuilt Consulting
Problems persistwith the technology
 
(evaporator) becomes the condenser, withhot refrigerant used to remove the ice. Inthis mode, electricity continues to be usedby the compressor and heat is removedfrom inside the building (ie, the condensertemporarily becomes the evaporator). Othersystems use hot-gas bypass or direct-actingelectric elements for defrosting.Clearly, whatever type of de-icingsystem is used, the energy needed willmarkedly reduce the seasonal performanceof the system. The energy used has a bigimpact on economic performance too.There are three other serious concerns:
noise from the fan and compressor canbe intrusive in domestic/urban locations;
snow could block the airflow around anASHP, preventing the system operatingunless it is manually removed, which wouldbe unacceptable to many householders(particularly the elderly or infirm); and
the heat output from an ASHP reducesmarkedly as outdoor air temperatures fall,so a system may have difficulty meetingdemand when it is most needed. Mostmanufacturers include an additionalheating system to avoid this problem,usually a direct-acting electric flow boiler ora bivalent system which includes a gas- oroil-fired boiler, with all the attendantadditional costs and complexity.These issues caused trouble with thefirst generation heat pumps in the 1970sand 80s and there are concerns thatproblems persist with the latest technologydespite improvements in compressors, heatexchangers and controls, including theinverter/variable-speed drive systems.It is also worrying that ASHP, whichare specified ostensibly as a “renewable”low-carbon form of space heating, can alsobe used to provide cooling in summer. Thismay be great news for electricity companies(by providing additional summer load), butfrom a sustainability perspective it isperverse. This Trojan horse aspect of ASHPis never mentioned in the context of theirgreen credentials. It is, though, cited bysome manufacturers as an extra “benefit”.I fear that when the true operatingperformance and/or operational limitationsof outdoor air source become known, therewill be a negative market reaction to heatpump technologies of all types, ashappened in the 1980s. This could have direconsequences for the manufacturers andinstallers of well-designed ground sourceheat pumps and air source systems used forheat recovery and swimming pool heating.We desperately need independentmonitoring of external ASHP in differentgeographical locations to ensure systemsoriginally designed and tested primarily toprovide air-conditioning in hot climates canoperate efficiently in cold, wet and humidclimates.I also have grave misgivings about therapid deployment of variable refrigerantvolume/variable refrigerant flow heat pumpsystems in the UK for applications such asoffices, retail, hospitality and healthcare.Often, particularly when internal heat gainswithin a building are low or when installedin poorly insulated buildings, the defrostenergy requirements will be extremely high.Our climate hasn’t changed muchsince the first generation of ASHP wasmarketed in the 1970s. Nor have the basiclaws of physics and thermodynamics.De-icing, noise, operation in heavy snowand reduced heat output at low outdoor airtemperatures are still big problems today,despite improvements in technology. Beforeembracing these systems as a renewablelow-carbon technology, research to measureperformance in the field is needed urgently.
TECHNICAL33
ISSUE 06
/ BSD JULY2009
Ice build-up on the evaporator can be a serious problem, says David Strong. The ice can be removed by putting thesystem into reverse mode, but this markedly reduces the energy performance.

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