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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

William Hudson

Optimising Returns from Commercial Ground Source Heat Pumps: A UK Study
Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are a conceptually simple technology, promising a low-carbon alternative to the heating and cooling of buildings. Already commercially established in several OECD countries, notably Sweden, Germany and Austria, the UK is now looking to GSHPs to provide a significant contribution to the meeting of its own 2050 emission targets. Commercial and industrial sectors are projected to lead large-scale deployment in the coming years, with ~58% of non-domestic and industrial sector heat hoped to be supplied by heat pumps by 2030 (UK Committee on Climate Change, 2010).
If GSHPs are to fulfil their environmental potential whilst being deployed at scale, they must also become competitive both socially and economically. Lacking familiarity with what is seen as a relatively new technology, potential customers of GSHPs must be shown that the associated financial risk is one worth taking. This may be achieved partly through demonstration of successful installations, and partly by demonstrating that GSHPs remain operationally ‘sustainable’ throughout their 20+ year lifespan.
An examination of existing commercial GSHPs across the UK, however, reveals a host of operational problems facing the industry. Many pumps are currently being provided under an ‘install and abandon’ policy, with little or no post-installation aftercare. Monitoring systems required for measurement of GSHP operational performance are often incomplete or non-existent, making it difficult to assess whether installations have been successful. Lack of monitoring directly impacts further systems of GSHP maintenance and control; if users are unable to gauge the performance of their pump, they are also unable to make appropriate interventions. This results in significantly lower GSHP performance than could otherwise be expected.
By contrasting poorly performing GSHP systems with successful or exemplary systems, stakeholder interviews reveal that new methods of support are needed if GSHPs are to operate reliably. These include procedures for training, documenting, scheduling and reporting required user inputs, all of which require industry to remain engaged with its clients in the years following GSHP installation. By ensuring smooth flow of information between GSHP stakeholders, gaps in knowledge can be closed, user confidence can be increased, and the industry may begin to enjoy more widespread success.