GMIT Energy Engineering: Heat pumps fuelled by the wind

Everybody loves the smell of peat burning in the fireplace on a crisp autumnal evening and the crackling sound of burning wood in the stove.

Christoph Schellenberg presenting iSET research to Sean Kyne, Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment during GMIT’s Green Campus Day.

Everybody loves the smell of peat burning in the fireplace on a crisp autumnal evening and the crackling sound of burning wood in the stove. However, besides losing approximately 70% of heat through the chimney and drawing in cool outside air through the stack effect, there is the problem of air pollution. In Ireland, the number of premature deaths attributable to air pollution from fossil fuels is estimated at 1,510 people every year and is mainly due to cardiovascular disease. The WHO has described air pollution as the ‘single biggest environmental health risk’. Other than that, there is the issue of climate change and the issue of €4.7 billion leaving the Irish economy every year to pay for fossil fuel imports.

Christoph Schellenberg, GMIT Energy Engineering graduate, now works on his PhD with GMIT’s integrated Sustainable Energy Technologies (iSET) research group. Schellenberg and his supervisors, Dr John Lohan and Dr Laurentiu Dimache, see an opportunity to address the challenge of increasing wind generation capacity and fossil fuel-based heating simultaneously.

Christoph Schellenberg says: “There is an opportunity to provide increased flexibility to the power grid and to provide low-cost and low-carbon heat to the consumer by using cheap wind electricity from the grid.” 

“For every unit of electricity they consume, heat pumps output three units of heat energy. This heat is generated with no local emissions at a lower cost than oil or gas heating – especially when availing of cheap night-time electricity tariffs. Also, almost every building can store heat in its floors and walls or in hot water cylinders. Hence, there is an opportunity to charge this thermal energy storage during low-cost periods and discharge the heat as required. In future, smart meters will enable electricity tariffs that change every hour, instead of the current night time and day time tariffs system. When a lot of wind energy is being generated electricity market prices drop substantially. This is the opportunity to charge up the heat store using wind energy at low cost.

“My research, which has been funded by the Irish Research Council (IRC) under the Government of Ireland Postgraduate Programme, is aimed to deliver an optimal local control strategy for heat pumps and thermal energy storage using computational intelligence to accrue benefits to the consumer and to the utility grid. This sector coupling strategy is believed to help facilitate the transition towards a 100% renewable and sustainable Smart Energy System,” add Mr Schellenberg.

The project has also benefitted from Marie Sklodowska Curie RISE (Research & Innovation Staff Exchange) funding.

Photo Credit: Aengus McMahon