Heating things up
Power and renewables Other sectors

Heat pump technology has existed over 100 years and is based on the same principles as refrigeration. A heat pump can reverse the natural process and absorb heat from a cold space releasing it to a warmer one or vice-versa. Today heat pumps provide space heating and cooling, and, in some cases, hot water for residential and commercial buildings. The main reason for using heat pumps is because the technology is significantly more energy efficient compared to direct electrical heating. So far, heat pumps have been used mainly as a solution when the demand for heat is relatively low, in residential homes for example.  However, technological advancement means that it could meet the energy demands for industrial processes that require a temperature of up to 200°C.

By introducing heat pumps it is possible to exchange traditional heating using coal, gas or electricity for heating and boost the output to a factor of five compared to the amount of energy needed. The system will take the other heat from surrounding mediums such as, air, water or exhaust heat. As mentioned, heat pumps are not new technology, but the focus on reducing CO2 emissions and the increased use and availability of electricity as an energy carrier enables this technology to scale and with scale comes a reduction in cost.

Opportunities and market impacts

Using heat pumps for heating purposes can by today’s technology give a Coefficient of Performance (COP) between 3-51and already at this level a shift to heat pumps will be economical. However, the COP keeps on increasing and by introducing a compressor it is possible to improve the heating towards 200C. This would mean much of the heat demand in industrial processes could be utilising heat pump technology with large efficiency gains, such as the food and beverage as well as pulp and paper.

Today’s efficiency of about five could be significantly improved with new designs of integrated systems capturing the waste heat leading to system gains of more than 10 times the energy input. If such breakthroughs are made, heat demand would shift towards electricity based heating and further increase rate of electrification.

Uncertainties

Implementation of heat pumps are already taking place today. How fast the technology improves in combination with increased installed capacity will determine the pace of implementation. A faster uptake will push down prices faster, which will further increase the uptake.

However, heat pump technology competes with existing systems and the current cost of heating. Any technology able to utilize existing infrastructure will delay the implementation of heat pumps. For example, a successful and fast implementation of emission free hydrogen might challenge the use of heat pumps. Hydrogen is an excellent heating gas able to support existing infrastructure and also well suited for heating at higher temperatures.

Contributors

Main author: Mats Rinaldo

Contributor: Marcel Eijgelaar

Editor: Peter Lovegrove

  1. Viking Heating Technologies – industrial heat pump specification
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