(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.
/ 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.