The ‘flexible’ technology could solve the problem of heat pumps affected by cold weather 

Researchers at University of Glasgow have developed a “flexible” heat pump they say is more efficient and effective than previous types. 

Heat pumps, particularly air source heat pumps, can be affected by cold weather as they need heat from the outside air to work.

The prototype created by the Glasgow research team, which was given £1.1m by the UK government, has devised a method whereby a water tank stores excess thermal energy created as the pump works. 

air source heatpump

The ‘flexible’ heat pump is expected to be more efficient and cost effective than current types

The pump can use this additional heat source, which is a much higher temperature than the outdoor air, later. This reduces the pump’s power consumption and is more cost effective, the researchers said. 

For air source heat pump applications, the heat stored in the water also allows the flexible heat pump to run continuously during defrosting. When heat pumps defrost currently the heat supply is interrupted while they still consume electricity. 

Zhibin Yu, professor of thermal energy at the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, who led the research and development of the flexible heat pump, said: “Our flexible heat pump solves many of the problems with the current generation of heat pumps, making them capable of delivering improved performance while using less power. 

“The cost of a small water tank heat storage is marginal, but the power saving is significant. It can be widely applied for all kinds of the heat pump applications.”

He added: “We believe that this could help drive improved takeup of heat pump technology in homes across the UK.”

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Heat pumps are expected to be increasingly installed in new homes as gas boilers are phased out as the UK attempts to reach its goal of net zero by 2050. 

But there has been relatively slow take up of heat pumps because they can be expensive to buy and run.  The UK government has set a target for 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. Last year ministers were looking at quadrupling funding for existing Clean Heats Grants scheme and extending it by a year to encourage homeowners to replace their gas boilers with heat pumps.

The researchers outlined their technology in a paper called “A flexible heat pump for heat recovery”, published in the journal Communications Engineering. 

The team have protected their invention with a Patent Cooperation Treaty patent and are looking for ways to make the flexible heat pump technology commercially available in the near future. 

Professor Yu and his team are seeking collaborators to take forward the development of the technology.