Heating project a hot prospect
INNOVATION PROFILE: Dublin Energy LabStorage heaters use excess wind energy and store it to be released as heat
A ground-breaking new project involving the Dublin Energy Lab at the Dublin Institute of Technology has the potential to deliver very significant savings to home heating costs along with considerable environmental benefits. However, it may come as a surprise to find that the project is based on the decidedly old technology of storage heating.
The project also involves Glen Dimplex, a range of installers, Eirgrid, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, Electric Ireland and is supported by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. At its heart is a new generation of highly efficient storage heaters designed and developed by Glen Dimplex which are connected to the electricity grid operator and are able to take excess wind energy when it’s available and store it to be released later as heat.
This addresses two of the major energy issues facing society today – storing wind energy so that it is available when the wind isn’t blowing; and reducing end-use energy consumption, particularly in domestic dwellings.
These two imperatives are usually seen totally separately. However, the Quantum project inextricably links them and provides a holistic solution to both.
The Glen Dimplex developed Quantum system takes wind-generated electricity that would otherwise remain unharnessed or unused, and stores it as heat in the home but the heat is only released when the occupant requires it. To achieve this, information must be transferred between the grid operation of wind turbines and the storage devices in the home.
“Traditional storage heaters charge up with heat at the night rate and release it during the day but they are not terribly energy efficient, not easy to control or very comfortable for the home owner,” notes Dublin Energy Lab centre manager Dr Aidan Duffy. “One of the main drivers behind this project is that we are living in a world where we have to be more energy efficient and where we are moving from dispatchable fossil fuel electricity generation to intermittent renewable sources.”
This brings with it the issue of what to do with the excess energy generated when the wind is blowing. One solution came from the Spirit of Ireland group and proposes pumping water into valleys for later release through hydroelectric generating stations. The Quantum solution involves the storage of the excess energy as heat in homes around the country.
And anyone who has concerns due to previous experiences with old-fashioned storage heaters need not be worried. “The Quantum is a highly thermally efficient product,” Duffy explains. “It is very well insulated and has a very sophisticated control interface which allows for heat to be released whenever it is needed. It overcomes the comfort and energy efficiency issues of previous generations of storage heaters.”
But the greatest potential in terms of the environment comes through the connection to the grid. Instead of just taking electricity at night the units will be able to receive electricity whenever there is an excess of wind power on the grid – regardless of the time of day. And the grid operator will be able to control this to maximise the efficiency of the system. The homeowner too will have a degree of control to ensure their heaters are fully charged up when needed.
“The holy grail of renewable energy is cost-effective storage,” says Duffy. “There is no silver bullet for this but the Quantum system is part of the solution. You could have a situation where people are charging up a spare battery for an electric car with excess electricity part of the day and charging their heating system at other times.”
As progress is made towards meeting Ireland’s 2020 target of having 40 per cent of electricity produced from renewable sources there will be even greater potential for savings and efficiencies.
As wind energy availability goes up and down the price of electricity will also vary throughout the day in accordance with the balance of supply and demand. “As things progress and the technology develops it may be an option for a homeowner to set their heating system only to use electricity when it is below a certain price,” Duffy points out.
The system was tested in 140 homes in Dublin city and Fingal late last year and the data from that trial is now being assessed by the Dublin Energy Lab.
“A lot of what we do here is model these things and what we are now doing is analysing this data and modelling the performance to see how the system would work at local and national levels.”
He is confident that the results will live up to expectations: “Quantum is good for homeowners in that it offers them reduced heating costs and increased comfort; it is good for Ireland as it will reduce the need for fossil fuel imports and make renewable energy more efficient; and it is good for the environment.”