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Surge in Demand for Giant Heat Pumps

A boiler room with gas heaters
Author: Samuel Beckingham
Updated: Jun 28, 2023
5 minutes read

Heat pumps are perfect for home heating, amplifying any residual heat in the air or ground and using it for space and water heating. Giant heat pumps work on a much larger scale, capable of heating thousands of homes at a time, not just one at a time. Residential heating is one of the best solutions for cheaper heating at an energy efficient scale, which giant heat pumps can deliver.

A typical household heat pump usually has an output of around 5–16kW. A giant heat pump on a commercial scale is much more powerful, having an output of 48 megawatts (MW). The German company MAN Energy Solutions (MAN ES) has developed one such heat pump that has demonstrable output.

They can take an Olympic sized swimming pool and heat it from 20°C to 100°C in under 4 hours. That’s 2.5 million litres of water. MAN ES could also freeze the pool in around 11 hours. When it comes to commercial heat pumps, the MAN ES version is one of the largest in the world, and it’s clear to see that the technology works. Even though electricity is still needed for their operation, they are so efficient that they produce 3–4 times as much heat as any electricity used.

MAN ES installed two giant heat pumps in Esbjerg in Denmark. As the city is next to a port, the heat pumps are able to absorb heat from seawater via the CO₂ refrigerant. This temperature is then boosted by compressors to provide hot water up to 90°C, transferring heat to around 27,000 households. While this certainly sounds impressive, these heat pumps are only operating at half efficiency.

While giant heat pumps are becoming more popular, district heating systems consisting of multiple heat pumps are also being used. Stockholm has one of the largest district heat pump set-ups in the world, with a 215MW capacity spread across 7 units. Gothenburg, also in Sweden, has a smaller 160MW system of 4 units which have been in operation since 1986.

When it comes to moving away from our reliance on gas, district heat pumps have been used for decades and are becoming more attractive to investors. As long as businesses don’t require temperatures above 200°C, heat pumps can deliver on a large scale, which is a much cheaper and low carbon option to using gas. In terms of housing, thousands of homes can be decarbonised at once with the help of district heating systems.

Vienna is looking to use a 55MW district system in autumn. Consisting of 3 heat pumps, the machines will harvest ambient temperature from treated wastewater. Wien Energie is excited to announce that the system will supply heat to 56,000 households and they will look to increase the system’s capacity in 2027 to 110MW. The individual heat pumps are less than 20MW in power, but the most efficient are capable of 28MW.

As always, the UK can learn from other countries that are paving the way in renewable heating. District heating is an easy way to make energy bills cheaper en masse and is one way in which the country can progress towards its net zero goals.

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