Frequently Asked Questions - Commercial
How efficient is a ground source heat pump system?
Modern systems are very efficient. For each kilowatt of electricity used to run the heat pump, three to four kilowatts of heat can be delivered to the building. The efficiency of a GSHP installation is very dependent on the quality of the design and installation. The efficiency of the installation is improved by utilising solar recharge of the ground.
The Coefficient of Performance ("CoP") of a heat pump system depends on the design and quality of the installation: from as low as 2 for an air source heat pump system in unfavourable conditions, up to 4 for an unassisted ground source heat pump, and up to 8 for a well designed ground source heat pump system benefitting from solar recharge of the ground.
Are ground source heat pumps established technology?
Yes, GSHP systems are common, particularly in the USA, Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Germany. The principles of ground source heat pumps were first described by Lord Kelvin in the 1850s and continuous development since they were first used commercially more than 50 years ago has greatly improved their efficiency and reliability. They now provide a proven, cost-effective, safe and environmentally friendly alternative to fossil fuels.
How large are ground source heat pumps?
A heat pump for a small building is about the size of a large fridge. More powerful heat pumps for commercial buildings do not increase in size or price as much as they do in power output.
Can GSHPs provide cooling?
Yes. Reverse-cycle heat pumps deliver both heating and cooling very effectively. Cooling provided by heat exchange with cold ground is inherently more efficient than air conditioning which typically exchanges heat with hot air: Renewable Cooling.
The heating cost in winter will also be reduced if you are using cooling in summer as the heat pump will have access to warmer temperatures from the ground: Renewable Heating.
Is a ground source heat pump system suitable for a well-insulated building?
Yes. All new buildings are designed to meet Building Regulations and should be able to benefit from a ground source heat pump. Building Regulations have been designed to conserve fuel, reduce heat losses and ensure greater energy efficiency, in order to ensure that all modern properties need less heating. For a well-insulated building the size of heat pump will be smaller, it will need smaller ground loops and will therefore be less expensive. You should take advice from an installer with commercial experience.
Is underfloor heating a good idea?
Yes. Ground source heat pump systems are ideally matched to modern warm temperature underfloor heating because a heat pump transfers heat at a higher coefficient of performance if it delivers to a large warm water circuit (like underfloor heating) rather than a small high temperature circuit (like wall mounted radiators). However, ground source systems can equally feed heat (or cooling) to air handling systems or to fan coil units.
Can ground source heat pumps be installed in older buildings?
Yes, but remember that investment in good insulation will be well rewarded, whatever the source of heat. The cost of a system is directly related to the heat losses, which will generally be higher in older buildings. Money spent on upgrading insulation levels can save a considerable amount on the capital cost of a ground source heat pump system.
Can the heat pump be installed outside or in a basement?
Yes. This normally means the pump will be nearer to the pipe connections to the ground loops, which often makes the whole system easier to connect.
Are ground source systems environmentally friendly?
Yes. In the UK, there is now a strong move towards alternative technologies that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. 40% of CO2 emissions are derived from the heating and cooling of buildings. Using renewable sources of energy to heat buildings helps to reduce these carbon emissions, particularly when compared to burning fossil fuels. The arguments are even stronger where a building needs cooling in summer as well as heating in winter. Ground source heating and cooling provides sustainable energy.
Are Ground Source Heat Pumps dangerous?
There are no hazardous gas emissions, no flammable oil, LPG or gas pipes, no flue or chimney and no unsightly fuel tanks. GSHP systems have absolutely NO site emissions. There is, therefore, no need for safety checks.
Are Ground Source Heat Pumps noisy?
No, a ground source heat pump makes less noise than a gas boiler, and very much less than an air source heat pump which drives a fan to extract heat from ambient air.
What about servicing and maintenance?
As with any valuable plant a ground source system should be covered by an annual maintenance agreement with the supplier. However, routine maintenace requirements are very low. A ground source heat pump can be expected to last over 20 years – longer than a combustion boiler – and the ground heat exchanger should have a life of over 50 years.
Why are ground source systems known as "invisible heating systems"?
Ground source systems are automated. Because they come with low maintenance, low running costs, low noise and are out of sight, they are often referred to as "invisible heating systems".
One key advantage of ground source systems is that they are favoured by planning officers: with nothing to hear, nothing to see, and nothing to smell there is nothing to object to.
How do running costs compare with conventional alternatives?
A ground source heat pump system can offer very high efficiency and low running costs. Oil-fired boilers cost considerably more to run. Even modern condensing gas boilers are more expensive to run at current gas prices, with gas prices also set to rise. All fossil fuel boilers need regular servicing to maintain efficiency and check safety.
What about alternative heat sources for heat pumps?
A ground source heat pump uses a ground loop or borehole to exchange heat with the ground: the advantage is that a relatively constant temperature is available throughout the winter if the ground loop is large enough. There are alternatives which can also be attractive for larger buildings including open loop systems which heat exchange with open water or aquifer systems: water source heat pumps or marine source heat pumps. It is also possible to heat exchange with ambient air, but an air source heat pump is significantly less efficient when the external air temperature is cold - and this corresponds with the time when space heating is most needed.
What are the costs of installing a ground source heat pump?
The initial purchase costs of a ground source heat pump system are more than a conventional oil or gas fired boiler. The initial capital expense is offset by lower running costs, lower maintenance and low servicing requirement. There is also the security of knowledge that the majority of your heating and cooling energy comes out of the ground and will not increase in price.
Be careful to avoid judging an installation on price alone. It is more important to ensure you have a well designed system if your aim is to save money over the life of the installation.
Are grants available to reduce running costs further?
Yes. See Renewable Heat Incentive for commercial buildings.