The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has recently launched a Eunomia study, prepared with support from the London South Bank University’s Centre for Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Research, which assessed the environmental impacts of leakage of refrigerants from within heat pumps.
The study found that annual leakage rates from operation of heat pumps were of the order of 3.8% of installation charge for non-domestic applications and 3.5% for domestic applications. The level of CO2 reduction delivered by using heat pumps to replace fossil fuel-based heating is therefore an order of magnitude greater than the emissions associated with refrigerant loss.
The study involved primary data gathering, research and analysis, along with modelling of market penetration of heat pumps over time to determine likely net climate change benefits. Refrigerants are a fundamental element of a heat pump installation as they are the working fluid which carries the energy from the heat source to the heat emitters. Whilst leakage of most refrigerants has climate change impacts, the roll-out of heat pumps provides benefits in terms of their replacement of existing fossil fuel heating technologies.
The detailed modelling undertaken for the study shows that there will be significant growth in the total net carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) benefit from ground source and air to water heat pumps; from around 0.4 million tonnes in 2013 to over 2 million tonnes in 2020. This latter figure is broadly equivalent to the total emissions from generating electricity via one combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plant operating in the current market.
Adam Baddeley, Eunomia’s Head of Energy, commented:
“With great emphasis being placed on the potential roll-out of significant numbers of heat pumps in both domestic and commercial properties, supported by both the Green Deal and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), this is a key piece of work has informed DECC’s strategy with regard to both ground source and air source heat pumps. This analysis clearly suggests that the projected increased roll-out of heat pumps is beneficial in reducing CO2e impacts through the displacement of more carbon intense technologies despite the associated, relatively small, rise in emissions due to refrigerant losses.”
Eunomia is currently carrying out three other studies for DECC, part of a growing portfolio of energy-related work.