How Do Heat Pumps Work?

May 21, 2018

Like a refrigeration system in reverse, heat pumps perform as clever energy conversion appliances. They pull warmth from the air, so a temperate climate is required to operate one of these systems. Australia, as anyone can confirm, is a warm nation, which means the equipment works around here without trouble. That’s all very nice, but curious minds need to know, how does the equipment operate successfully as a heat pump?

Heat Pumps 

As with any other hot water system, the process starts with cold water. The cold liquid enters the heat pump assembly, it’s absorbed into the equipment’s refrigerant, and then a compressor gets to work. The hot refrigerant fluid is processed by an evaporator coil and an expansion valve, then the thermal energy is transferred to the water. Essentially, the warm outside air is filtering its way inside the unit, interacting with a reverse-refrigeration mechanism, and that warmth is moving over to the water. It’s a warm air/cold water intake system, which, thanks to the inverted refrigeration cycle, exits the equipment as cold air/hot water. But why bother? Why go through all this trouble when a perfectly capable furnace and hot water recirculation system can carry out the same work?

Heat Transference Savings 

To put it simply, it’s easier to transfer energy than to create that thermal load. The furnace works well, of course, but it requires fuel to produce hot water. Meanwhile, the furnace burner is inefficiently converting fuel into fire, and there are thermal losses to account for during the burn stage. These losses then escape into the air and are wasted. Heat pumps don’t generate energy, don’t convert electricity or gas into heat, they transfer existing heat from one medium to another. In the example mentioned earlier, the refrigerant and evaporator coil is working with a compressor to use an already well-established process. Working in reverse, the refrigerant is simply pulling heat from the surrounding air. Typically, the solution operates as a split system, with an outdoor unit and an indoor recirculation pump, a build that’s relatively expensive to install.

The technology is fairly new, so heat pump equipment is still a little expensive. However, just like a solar energy system, the equipment is energy efficient. It’s literally pulling heat out of thin air. And there’s no shortage of warm air in Australia. In time, the initial outlay will pay for itself. The thermal transference system will do so by rejecting conventional fuels in favour of a source of thermal energy that’s floating around outside.

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