HEAT pumps are not an easy technology for people to get a grip of. The idea that you are taking something that is basically cold – be it air, the ground, or water from a lake or river – and making heat by taking a few degrees out of the heat source, is counter-intuitive.

This is particularly true when the heat source is at, say, 8C and you are talking about delivering hot water at 40-60C. Yet heat pumps can be shown to do this very successfully, so arguing against them makes no sense.

The technology is well proven and has been deployed successfully both in Scotland and for many decades in Scandinavia. Moreover, as Ross Skirton, sales and technical director at Incognito Heat Co, explains, there are plenty of residential premises in Scotland where a heat pump of one sort or another would work very well.

HeraldScotland: EXPERT: Ross Skirton of Incognito Heat Co.EXPERT: Ross Skirton of Incognito Heat Co.

By this he means that for many in Scotland’s off-gas areas the heat pump could be shown to be a cheaper and substantially greener solution to the household’s heat and hot water requirements than an oil-fired boiler, an LPG-fuelled system or an all- electric heating solution.

For houses that have access to the national gas grid, the case is much less clear. The problem with replacing a gas-fired boiler with a heat pump solution is that gas prices in the UK are very low, particularly in comparison to some areas of Europe, where gas prices can be 40-50% higher than here.

Incognito Heat Co started out back in 2005 as an electrical underfloor heating company, but as Mr Skirton explains, it ran into sustained competition from “wet” heating systems.

HeraldScotland: Ground source heat pump: Collector pipe is laid in one metre deep trenches in suitable ground conditions. Ground source heat pump: Collector pipe is laid in one metre deep trenches in suitable ground conditions.

These are heating systems that work off underfloor pipes which are conduits for heated water. In many instances the heat for those wet-heating systems comes from a heat pump, though it can just as easily be driven by a conventional boiler.

So the company moved into wet heating systems, which would be installed usually in a new build or as part of a massive renovation project on a home. “It was clear to me that I needed to know a lot more about heat pumps, to design underfloor heating that optimised performance. We grew our expertise at this technology and we began installing heat pumps from a Scandinavian manufacturer in late 2006. We discovered that there was a growing appetite in the market for heat pumps to drive heating systems. This was being driven – and still is – both by economics and by people wanting to go green.”

Heat pumps still require electricity to operate, but as Mr Skirton explains, a heat pump rated at a coefficient of four will generate four units of heat output for every unit of electricity consumed by the pump. By comparison, an all-electric heating system has a coefficient of one – you get one unit of heat out for every unit of electricity consumed.

What this means is that the householder could see their electricity bill reduce by three-quarters. On top of this, because Incognito Heat Co is a micro-generation certified supplier (MCS), the system will qualify for payments under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI scheme is a mechanism to incentivise and reward householders to invest in renewable energy, a scheme that Mr Skirton believes will lose its relevance as acceptance grows and heat pumps become the new normal. Unlike the Feed-in Tariff for solar and wind, which came to an end on March 31, RHI payments will continue for all installations commissioned before March 31, 2021.

HeraldScotland: Incognito Heat Co, a specialist underfloor heating and renewable energy company were instructed by one of our long-standing development partners, Lawrie Construction, to design, supply and install an efficient space heating and hot water system for 6 new family homes.Incognito Heat Co, a specialist underfloor heating and renewable energy company were instructed by one of our long-standing development partners, Lawrie Construction, to design, supply and install an efficient space heating and hot water system for 6 new family homes.

Mr Skirton points out that over the seven-year period covered by an RHI agreement, the householder can expect to recoup either all, or a very large part, of the capital costs associated with installing a heat pump.

These costs will generally work out at around £10,000 for a small house running an air-source heat pump driven system.

There are three main types of heat pump – ground-sourced, air-sourced and water-sourced – and it takes a careful onsite appraisal to decide which will be the most efficient solution.

“Where the house is located within easy reach of flowing water, we would generally prefer a water-sourced heat pump, since you can extract three or four degrees more heat from the source,” Mr Skirton says.

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He points out that a water-source heat pump is a sealed unit. The fluid used in the heat pump never comes into contact with the water source or the surrounding ground.

The key point is that where a household is using, say, 20,000kWh of electricity a year on space heating, with a properly rated heat pump that would come down to 6,000kWh – and the rest would be pure, free, renewable energy.

For more information please visit www.incognitoheatco.com

This article appeared in The Herald's annual review of Scotland's Renewable Sector which you can view online by CLICKING HERE