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Types Of Heat Pumps – Complete Guide

Types Of Heat Pumps

In the United States, more than 10% of new buildings are equipped with heat pumps of various types. Norway produces more than 98% of its heat and electricity from renewable energy sources and prefers air-to-water heat pumps. In Sweden, the waters of the Baltic Sea are used as a source of low-grade heat for water-to-water heat pumps. Heat pumps are a modern trend that involves the transition from outdated boilers to gas, fuel oil and biomass. In order to guide you when choosing a heat pump, we will consider the main types of heat pumps , their types and distribution by purpose.

In the United States, heat pumps are just gaining popularity, but their number is growing exponentially every year. Therefore, it is worth understanding what types of heat pumps there are in order to choose the right equipment based on external factors and the needs of a particular building.  

Types of heat pumps by type of energy source

The essence of the operation of all heat pumps is to transfer thermal energy from air, earth or water to the heating (cooling) system.

Air-to-air heat pumps

Air-to-air pumps extract heat from the air outside and transfer it directly to the air in the room. The simplicity of the design and the efficiency of operation allow the use of air-to-air units in different types of premises for heating, water heating, and some models for cooling.

Air-to-water heat pumps

Using air as a primary source of thermal energy is the simplest and least labor- and financially expensive way to heat rooms. With the help of a fan, air from the environment enters the outdoor unit of the heat pump onto the heat exchanger. Freon circulates through this heat exchanger, which is sent to the compressor, compressed, supplied to the condenser heat exchanger and transfers thermal energy to the heating system. The air-to-water heat pump operates effectively at outdoor temperatures down to -20°C, and some models even at -30°C.

The unit uses electrical energy from the grid during operation: on average. The pump produces 3 to 5 kW of thermal energy per 1 kW of electrical energy. The equipment can be installed in new buildings and can be used to modernize outdated heating systems. Most models of heat pumps are used in summer to cool the air in rooms.

Water-to-water heat pumps

Water is one of the possible heat sources for HP. For this purpose, groundwater, surface water bodies, and the thermal energy of waste and industrial water are used. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, as well as features of the system arrangement:

  • To obtain heat from groundwater, it is necessary to drill two wells: the upper one (downstream) is needed to take water into the system, and the lower one is for discharge.
  • To use the water heat in a reservoir, pipes are laid along its bottom – a probe. It is important that the depth of the reservoir is more than 3 meters, and the temperature at the bottom remains stable all year round.
  • Wastewater is often used as a source of thermal energy in cities and enterprises. To set up such a system, it is necessary to install an intermediate heat exchanger made of corrosion-resistant materials.

Water-to-water heat pumps are considered the most efficient. Environmentally friendly and cost-effective heat sources for heating and cooling residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

Ground-water  heat pumps

Since the ground temperature at a depth of more than 2 meters remains unchanged throughout the year. Low-grade heat from the earth is often used as a source of thermal energy for heat pumps. There are several ways to install a ground-water system:

  • Vertical probes: pipes are laid in wells 20-150 m deep. This method of obtaining thermal energy from the earth is the most expensive due to the drilling of deep wells and the most effective. It is considered appropriate if the land plot has a small area or the soil composition does not allow the laying of horizontal pipes.
  • Horizontal collectors: spiral or serpentine probes are laid to a depth of up to 3 meters (below the freezing level), the area depends on the heat needs of the room, but due to hydraulic resistance, the total length of the circuit should not exceed 150 m.
  • Vertical-horizontal: spiral, cluster (inclined wells), “basket”. They combine the advantages of two types of probes and are laid to a depth of up to 5 meters.

All types of probes perform one role

they select low-potential heat from the soil and transfer it to the evaporator. Which contains cooled refrigerant under low pressure. Freon heated from the coolant is compressed by the compressor, which leads to an increase in its temperature. The compressed and heated freon enters the condenser, where it transfers heat to the building’s heating system circuit. Then it passes through the throttle: it cools down, the pressure drops and the cycle begins again.  

Despite the need for large capital investments during drilling and installation of probes. Systems with ground-water HP remain one of the most popular. Since the equipment is durable and the quality of its work does not depend on the ambient temperature. In the primary circuit of the system, brine or water is used as a coolant.

The choice of a heat pump based on the type of primary energy source depends on many factors: location and technical features of the building, environmental conditions, budget for equipment installation.

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