Sources of Heat, Life, and Everything

Same procedure as every summer: Science and tech blogging comes to a halt, and the daring ‘internet artist’ is summoned. But also unorthodox avant-garde art is rooted in down-to-earth engineering.

In summer elkement leaves the programmer’s cave (a bit) and sees the sun. The local elkemental microcosmos is a fully functional biosphere-2-like ecosystem with lots of life-forms. They interact with each other – and they interact with the collector and the ice storage tank. In 2018 it’s time for a retrospective!

As soon as the collctor was built, the flying descendants of the dinosaurs occupied it. As the white spots show, it has an important function:

This is also a modern, innovative ecosphere: We provide co-working space and meeting rooms, also for the slimiest of life-forms.

The collector has obviously a positive impact on any life-form – not only the faunal:

According to a questionable theory byy crackpot hobby scientists, this can be explained by the collector’s true core: It is made up from life-forms itself – gigantic worms.

We also had ghastly apparition of a very rare life-form integrated with the collector: The Solar Scorpion:

Let’s not forget the ice storage part of the heat source: It is every bit as interesting as the collector for the technically savvy life-forms:

Now and then you can spot even human life-forms within the storage tank:

The storage tank is giving something back in an eternal circle of life: Excess water is drained from the tank – and it is said to boost the vegetables!

This posting is like all the other soporific TV documentaries about animals roaming beautiful landscapes. Nature is cruel. Also the ice storage tank took its death toll.

But life-forms strike back … and they target the heat source. Never underestimate an aggressive tree:

Fortunately most living beings come in peace; some are particularly likeable and intelligent. Recently the collector had a surprise audit:

Finally the elkement knows what smart monitoring actually is:

Cooling Potential

I had an interesting discussion about the cooling potential of our heat pump system – in a climate warmer than ours.

Recently I’ve shown data for the past heating season, including also passive cooling performance:

After the heating season, tank temperature is limited to 10°C as long as possible – the collector is bypassed in the brine circuit (‘switched off’). But with the beginning of May, the tank temperature starts to rise though as the tank is heated by the surrounding ground.

Daily cooling energy hardly exceeds 20kWh, so the average cooling power is always well below 1kW. This is much lower than the design peak cooling load – the power you would need to cool the rooms to 20°C at noon on a hot in summer day (rather ~10kW for our house.)

The blue spikes are single dots for a few days, and they make the curve look more impressive than it really is: We could use about 600kWh of cooling energy – compared to about 15.000kWh for space heating. (Note that I am from Europe – I use decimal commas and thousands dots :-))

There are three ways of ‘harvesting cold’ with this system:

(1) When water in the hygienic storage tank (for domestic hot water) is heated up in summer, the heat pump extracts heat from the underground tank.

Per summer month the heat pump needs about 170kWh of input ambient energy from the cold tank – for producing an output heating energy of about 7kWh per day – 0,3kW on average for two persons, just in line with ‘standards’. This means that nearly all the passive cooling energy we used was ‘produced’ by heating hot water.

You can see the effect on the cooling power available during a hot day here (from this article on passive cooling in the hot summer of 2015)

Blue arrows indicate hot water heating time slots – for half an hour a cooling power of about 4kW was available. But for keeping the room temperature at somewhat bearable levels, it was crucial to cool ‘low-tech style’ – by opening the windows during the night (Vent)

(2) If nights in late spring and early summer are still cool, the underground tank can be cooled via the collector during the night.

In the last season we gained about ~170kWh in total in that way – only as much as by one month of hot water heating. The effect also depends on control details: If you start cooling early in the season when you ‘actually do not really need it’ you can harvest more cold because of the higher temperature difference between tank and cold air.

(3) You keep the cold or ice you ‘create’ during the heating season.

The set point tank temperature for summer  is a trade-off between saving as much cooling energy as possible and keeping the Coefficient of Performance (COP) reasonably high also in summer – when the heat sink temperature is 50°C because the heat pump only heats hot tap water.

20°C is the maximum heat source temperature allowed by the heat pump vendor. The temperature difference between 20°C and the set point of 10°C translates to about 300kWh (only) for 25m3 of water. But cold is also transferred to ground and thus the effective store of cold is larger than the tank itself.

What are the options to increase this seasonal storage of cold?

• Turning the collector off earlier. To store as much ice as possible, the collector could even be turned off while still in space heating mode – as we did during the Ice Storage Challenge 2015.
• Active cooling: The store of passive cooling energy is limited – our large tank only contains about 2.000kWh even if frozen completely; If more cooling energy is required, there has to be a cooling backup. Some brine/water heat pumps[#] have a 4-way-valve built into the refrigeration cycle, and the roles of evaporator and condenser can be reversed: The room is cooled and the tank is heated up. In contrast to passive cooling the luke-warm tank and the surrounding ground are useful. The cooling COP would be fantastic because of the low temperature difference between source and sink – it might actually be so high that you need special hydraulic precautions to limit it.

The earlier / the more often the collector is turned off to create ice for passive cooling, the worse the heating COP will be. On the other hand, the more cold you save, the more economic is cooling later:

1. Because the active cooling COP (or EER[*]) will be higher and
2. Because the total cooling COP summed over both cooling phases will be higher as no electrical input energy is needed for passive cooling – only circulation pumps.

([*] The COP is the ratio of output heating energy and electrical energy, and the EER – energy efficiency ratio – is the ratio of output cooling energy and electrical energy. Using kWh as the unit for all energies and assuming condenser and evaporator are completely ‘symmetrical’, the EER or a heat pump used ‘in reverse’ is its heating COP minus 1.)

So there would be four distinct ways / phases of running the system in a season:

1. Standard heating using collector and tank. In a warmer climate, the tank might not even be frozen yet.
2. Making ice: At end of the heating season the collector might be turned off to build up ice for passive cooling. In case of an ’emergency’ / unexpected cold spell of weather, the collector could be turned on intermittently.
3. Passive cooling: After the end of the heating season, the underground tank cools the buffer tank (via its internal heat exchanger spirals that containing cool brine) which in turn cools the heating floor loops turned ‘cooling loops’.
4. When passive cooling power is not sufficient anymore, active cooling could be turned on. The bulk volume of the buffer tank is cooled now directly with the heat pump, and waste heat is deposited in the underground tank and ground. This will also boost the underground heat sink just right to serve as the heat source again in the upcoming heating season.

In both cooling phases the collector could be turned on in colder nights to cool the tank. This will work much better in the active cooling phase – when the tank is likely to be warmer than the air in the night. Actually, night-time cooling might be the main function the collector would have in a warmer climate.

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[#] That seems to be valid mainly/only for domestic brine-water heat pumps from North American or Chinese vendors; they offer the reversing valve as a common option. European vendors rather offer a so called Active Cooling box, which is a cabinet that can be nearly as big as the heat pump itself. It contains a bunch of valves and heat exchangers that allow for ‘externally’ swapping the connections of condenser and evaporator to heat sink and source respectively.

Recently I presented the usual update of our system’s and measurement data documentation.The PDF document contains consolidated numbers for each year and month of operations:

Total output heating energy (incl. hot tap water), electrical input energy (incl. brine pump) and its ratio – the performance factor. Seasons always start at Sept.1, except the first season that started at Nov. 2011. For ‘special experiments’ that had an impact on the results see the text and the PDF linked above.

It is finally time to tackle the fundamental questions:

What is the impact of the size of the solar/air collector?

or

What is the typical output power of the collector?

In 2014 the Chief Engineer had rebuilt the collector so that you can toggle between 12m2 instead of 24m

TOP: Full collector – hydraulics as in seasons 2012, 2013. Active again since Sept. 2017. BOTTOM: Half of the collector, used in seasons 201414, 15, and 16.

Do we have data for seasons we can compare in a reasonable way – seasons that (mainly) differ by collector area?

We disregard seasons 2014 and 2016 – we had to get rid of a nearly 100 years old roof truss and only heated the ground floor with the heat pump.

Attic rebuild project – point of maximum destruction – generation of fuel for the wood stove.

Season 2014 was atypical anyway because of the Ice Storage Challenge experiment.

Then seasonal heating energy should be comparable – so we don’t consider the cold seasons 2012 and 2016.

Remaining warm seasons: 2013 – where the full collector was used – and 2015 (half collector). The whole house was heated with the heat pump; heating and energies and ambient energies were similar – and performance factors were basically identical. So we checked the numbers for the ice months Dec/Feb/Jan. Here a difference can be spotted, but it is far less dramatic than expected. For half the collector:

• Collector harvest is about 10% lower
• Performance factor is lower by about 0,2
• Brine inlet temperature for the heat pump is about 1,5K lower

The upper half of the collector is used, as indicated by hoarfrost.

It was counter-intuitive, and I scrutinized Data Kraken to check it for bugs.

But actually we forgot that we had predicted that years ago: Simulations show the trend correctly, and it suffices to do some basic theoretical calculations. You only need to know how to represent a heat exchanger’s power in two different ways:

Power is either determined by the temperature of the fluid when it enters and exits the exchanger tubes …

[1]   T_brine_outlet – T_brine_inlet * flow_rate * specific_heat

… but power can also be calculated from the heat energy flow from brine to air – over the surface area of the tubes:

[2]   delta_T_brine_air * Exchange_area * some_coefficient

Delta T is an average over the whole exchanger length (actually a logarithmic average but using an arithmetic average is good enough for typical parameters). Some_coefficient is a parameter that characterized heat transfer for area or per length of a tube, so Exchange_area * Some_coefficient could also be called the total heat transfer coefficient.

If several heat exchangers are connected in series their powers are not independent as they share common temperatures of the fluid at the intersection points:

The brine circuit connecting heat pump, collector and the underground water/ice storage tank. The three ‘interesting’ temperatures before/after the heat pump, collector and tank can be calculated from the current power of the heat pump, ambient air temperature, and tank temperature.

When the heat pump is off in ‘collector regeneration mode’ the collector and the heat exchanger in the tank necessarily transfer heat at the same power  per equation [1] – as one’s brine inlet temperature is the other one’s outlet temperature, the flow rate is the same, and also specific heat (whose temperature dependence can be ignored).

But powers can also be expressed by [2]: Each exchanger has a different area, a different heat transfer coefficient, and different mean temperature difference to the ambient medium.

So there are three equations…

• Power for each exchanger as defined by [1]
• 2 equations of type [2], one with specific parameters for collector and air, the other for the heat exchanger in the tank.

… and from those the three unknowns can be calculated: Brine inlet temperatures, brine outlet temperature, and harvesting power. All is simple and linear, it is not a big surprise that collector harvesting power is proportional temperature difference between air and tank. The warmer the air, the more you harvest.

The combination of coefficient factors is the ratio of the product of total coefficients and their sum, like: $\frac{f_1 * f_2}{f_1 + f_2}$ – the inverse of the sum of inverses.

This formula shows what one might you have guessed intuitively: If one of the factors is much bigger than the other – if one of the heat exchangers is already much ‘better’ than the others, then it does not help to make the better one even better. In the denominator, the smaller number in the sum can be neglected before and after optimization, the superior properties always cancel out, and the ‘bad’ component fully determines performance. (If one of the ‘factors’ is zero, total power is zero.) Examples for ‘bad’ exchangers: If the heat exchanger tubes in the tank are much too short or if a flat plat collector is used instead of an unglazed collector.

On the other hand, if you make a formerly ‘worse’ exchanger much better, the ratio will change significantly. If both exchangers have properties of the same order of magnitude – which is what we deign our systems for – optimizing one will change things for the better, but never linearly, as effects always cancel out to some extent (You increase numbers in both parts if the fraction).

So there is no ‘rated performance’ in kW or kW per area you could attach to a collector. Its effective performance also depends on the properties of the heat exchanger in the tank.

But there is a subtle consequence to consider: The smaller collector can deliver the same energy and thus ‘has’ twice the power per area. However, air temperature is given, and [2] must hold: In order to achieve this, the delta T between brine and air necessarily has to increase. So brine will be a bit colder and thus the heat pump’s Coefficient of Performance will be a bit lower. Over a full season including the warm periods of heating hot water only the effect is less pronounced – but we see a more significant change in performance data and brine inlet temperature for the ice months in the respective seasons.

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Same Procedure as Every Autumn: New Data for the Heat Pump System

October – time for updating documentation of the heat pump system again! Consolidated data are available in this PDF document.

In the last season there were no special experiments – like last year’s Ice Storage Challenge or using the wood stove. Winter was rather mild, so we needed only ~16.700kWh for space heating plus hot water heating. In the coldest season so far – 2012/13 – the equivalent energy value was ~19.700kWh. The house is located in Eastern Austria, has been built in the 1920s, and has 185m2 floor space since the last major renovation.

(More cross-cultural info:  I use thousands dots and decimal commas).

The seasonal performance factor was about 4,6 [kWh/kWh] – thus the electrical input energy was about 16.700kWh / 4,6 ~ 3.600kWh.

Note: Hot water heating is included and we use flat radiators requiring a higher water supply temperature than the floor heating loops in the new part of the house.

Red: Heating energy ‘produced’ by the heat pump – for space heating and hot water heating. Yellow: Electrical input energy. Green: Performance Factor = Ratio of these energies.

The difference of 16.700kWh – 3.600kWh = 13.100kWh was provided by ambient energy, extracted from our heat source – a combination of underground water/ice tank and an unglazed ribbed pipe solar/air collector.

The solar/air collector has delivered the greater part of the ambient energy, about 10.500kWh:

Energy needed for heating per day (heat pump output) versus energy from the solar/air collector – the main part of the heat pump’s input energy. Negative collector energies indicate passive cooling periods in summer.

Peak Ice was 7 cubic meters, after one cold spell of weather in January:

Ice is formed in the water tank when the energy from the collector is not sufficient to power the heat pump alone, when ambient air temperatures are close to 0°C.

Last autumn’s analysis on economics is still valid: Natural gas is three times as cheap as electricity but with a performance factor well above three heating costs with this system are lower than they would be with a gas boiler.

Is there anything that changed gradually during all these years and which does not primarily depend on climate? We reduced energy for hot tap water heating – having tweaked water heating schedule gradually: Water is heated up once per day and as late as possible, to avoid cooling off the hot storage tank during the night.

We have now started the fifth heating season. This marks also the fifth anniversary of the day we switched on the first ‘test’ version 1.0 of the system, one year before version 2.0.

It’s been about seven years since first numerical simulations, four years since I have been asked if I was serious in trading in IT security for heat pumps, and one year since I tweeted:

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How Does It Work? (The Heat Pump System, That Is)

Over the holidays I stayed away from social media, read quantum physics textbooks instead, and The Chief Engineer and I mulled over the fundamental questions of life, the universe and everything. Such as: How to explain our heat pump system?

An astute reader suggested to create an ‘animation’ of the gradual evolution of the system’s state. As I learned from discussions, one major confusion was related to the role of the solar collector and the fact that you have to factor in the history of the heat source: This is true for every heat pump system that uses a heat source that can be ‘depleted’, in contrast to a flow of ground water at a constant temperature for example.

I don’t want to explain the thermodynamic details, and I think that the refrigerator analogy is not helpful. So for this pragmatic introduction a heat pump is just a device that generates heating energy as an output, the input energy being electrical energy and heat energy extracted from a rather cold heat source somewhere near the building. For 8kW heating power you need about 2kW electrical energy and 6kW ambient energy. The ratio of 8kW and 2kW is called the coefficient of performance.

What the typical intro to heat pumps in physics textbooks does not point out is that the ambient heat source actually has to be able to deliver that input energyduring a whole heating season. There is no such thing as the infinite reservoir of energy usually depicted as a large box. Actually, the worse the performance of a heat pump is – the ratio of output heat energy and input electrical energy, the smaller are the demands on the heat source. The Chief Engineer has coined the term The Heat Source Paradox for this!

The lower the temperature of the heat source, the smaller the coefficient of performance is: So if you run an air source heat pump in mid-winter (using a big ventilator) then less energy is extracted from that air source than a geothermal heat pump would extract from ground. But if you build a geothermal heat source that’s too small in relation to a building’s heating demands, you see the same effect: Ground freezes, source temperature decreases, performance decreases, and you need more electrical energy and less ambient energy.

I am harping on the role of the heat source as the whole point of our ‘innovation’ is our special heat source that has two components, both of them being essential: An unglazed solar / air collector and an underground water / ice tank plus the surrounding ground. The collector allows to replenish the energy stored in the tank quickly, even in winter: Air temperature just needs to be some degrees warmer than the cold brine. The tank is a buffer: When no energy is harvested by the collector at ambient temperatures below 0°C, water freezes and releases latent heat. So you can call that an air heat pump with a huge, silent and mainentance-free ‘absorber’ plus a buffer that provides energy for periods of frost and that allows for storing all the energy you don’t need immediately. Ground does provide some energy as well, and I am planning to post about my related simulations.(*) It can be visualized as an extension of the ice / water energy storage into the surroundings. But the active volume or area of ground is smaller than for geothermal systems as most of the ambient energy actually comes from the solar / air collector: The critical months in our climate are Dec-Jan-Feb: Before and after, the collector would be sufficient as the only heat source. In the three ‘ice months’ water is typically frozen in the tank, but even then the collector provides for 75-80% of the ambient energy needed to drive the heat pump.(*)

(*) Edit: This post written in 2017 shows how much energy is stored / exchanged by each component. An overview of essential numbers is given here; emphasis on the volume of ice – which is compared to simulations here.

Components are off-the-shelf products, actually rather simple and cheap ones, such as the most stupid, non-smart brine-water heat pump. What is special is 1) the arrangement of the heat exchanger pipes in the water tank and 2) the custom control logic, that is programming of the control unit.

So here is finally the series of images of the system’s state, shown in a gallery and with captions: You can scroll down to see the series embedded in the post, or click on the first image to see an enlarged view and then click through the slide-show.

More information on the system (technical data, sizing) and measurement data since 2012 can be found in this documentation.

German readers: This post contains the German version of this slide-show.

Economics of the Solar Air Collector

In the previous post I gave an overview of our recently compiled data for the heat pump system.

The figure below, showing the seasonal performance factor and daily energy balances, gave rise to an interesting question:

In February the solar collector was off for research purposes, and the performance factor was just a bit lower than in January. Does the small increase in performance – and the related modest decrease in costs of electrical energy – justify the investment of installing a solar/air collector?

Monthly heating energy provided by the heat pump – total of both space heating and hot water, related electrical input energy, and the ratio = monthly performance factor. The SPF is in kWh/kWh.

Daily energies: 1) Heating energy delivered by the heat pump. Heating energy = electrical energy + ambient energy from the tank. 2) Energy supplied by the collector to the water tank, turned off during the Ice Storage Challenge. Negative collector energies indicate cooling of the water tank by the collector during summer nights. 200 kWh peak in January: due to the warm winter storm ‘Felix’.

Depending on desired pay-back time, it might not – but this is the ‘wrong question’ to ask. Without the solar collector, the performance factor would not have been higher than 4 before it was turned off; so you must not compare just these two months without taking into account the history of energy storage in the whole season.

Bringing up the schematic again; the components active in space heating mode plus collector are highlighted:

(1) Off-the-shelf heat pump. (2) Energy-efficient brine pump. (3) Underground water tank, can also be used as a cistern. (4) Ribbed pipe unglazed solar collector (5) 3-way valve: Diverting brine to flow through the collector, depending on ambient temperature. (6) Hot water is heated indirectly using a large heat exchanger in the tank. (7) Buffer tank with a heat exchanger for cooling. (8) Heating circuit pump and mixer, for controlling the supply temperature. (9) 3-way valve for switching to cooling mode. (10) 3-way valve for toggling between room heating and hot water heating.

The combination of solar collector and tank is ‘the heat source’, but the primary energy source is ambient air. The unglazed collector allows for extracting energy from it efficiently. Without the tank this system would resemble an air heat pump system – albeit with a quiet heat exchanger instead of a ventilator. You would need the emergency heating element much more often in a typical middle European winter, resulting in a lower seasonal performance factor. We built this system also because it is more economical than a noisy and higher-maintenance air heat pump system in the long run.

Our measurements over three years show that about 75%-80% of the energy extracted from the tank by the heat pump is delivered to it by the solar collector in the same period (see section ‘Ambient Energy’ in monthly and yearly overviews). The remaining energy is from surrounding ground or freezing water. The water tank is a buffer for periods of a few very cold days or weeks. So the solar/air collector is an essential component – not an option.

In Oct, Nov, and March typically all the energy needed for heating is harvested by the solar collector in the same month. In ‘Ice Months’  Dec, Jan, Feb freezing of water provides for the difference. The ice cube is melted again in the remaining months, by the surplus of solar / air energy – in summer delivered indirectly via ground.

The winter 2014/2015 had been unusually mild, so we had hardly created any ice before February. The collector had managed to replenish the energy quickly, even in December and January. The plot of daily energies over time show that the energy harvested by the collector in these months is only a bit lower than the heating energy consumed by the house! So the energy in the tank was filled to the brim before we turned the collector off on February 1. Had the winter been harsher we might have had 10 m3 of ice already on that day, and we might have needed 140kWh per day of heating energy, rather than 75kWh. We would have encountered  the phenomena noted during the Ice Storage Challenge earlier.

This post has been written by Elke Stangl, on her blog. Just adding this in case the post gets stolen in its entirety again, as it happened to other posts tagged with ‘Solar’ recently.

We Want Ice!

We haven’t seen much of it this winter yet.

I am talking both about the ice you would expect in winter and about the one created from extracting heat from a water tank – our heat pump system‘s heat source.

This winter does again disappoint; it seems we will not be able to generate Pannonia‘s largest ice cube in this season. This plot shows the growth of ice in the past three seasons, since the system went live in autumn 2012:

The tank of water can be considered a buffer that stores energy harvested by the solar collector; in addition some energy is directly harvested from the surrounding ground.

The water tank temperature is 20°C maximum. This is the maximum heat source temperature the heat pump can deal with, so the solar collector is hardly used in summer. Heat provided by ground is sufficient to provide the energy which is extracted from the tank on heating hot water.

This is the energy stored in the tank over time:

The specific heat of water is 1,16kWh per m3  – cooling down the 25m3 tank from 20°C to 0°C provides about 580kWh. Currently we need about 70kWh per day for space heating and hot water heating; the maximum in this season was about 100kWh per day so far. We had not seen ice before December in the past three seasons: Water does not freeze as long as as the energy provided by the solar collector replenishes the energy in the tank quickly enough.

The ice formation curves in the first figure show that the blue peaks always follow a cold spell of weather –  a negative peak in the (green) ambient temperature. As soon as there is a positive peak the ice is quickly melted again. This year the latest green positive peak was quite pronounced – about 12°C average daily temperature; maximum temperatures were about 20°C in some regions in Austria.

But we try harder now to create a gigantic ice cube: On rebuilding the solar collector last summer a new feature has been added for research purposes – the effectively utilized area of the collector can be changed by letting brine only flow through a subset of the tubes.

Currently we use only the upper half of the area. There is hoarfrost on the pipes which are in use – as they are colder as energy is extracted from the flowing brine by the heat pump and / or by the water tank:

If this is still not sufficient to challenge the system we might turn off the collector permanently in February. 100kWh heating energy per day translates to 75kWh to be extracted by the heat pump (given a performance coefficient of about 4). The tank containing about 2.000 kWh would then be exhausted and completely frozen in 27 days.

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Further information:

Other plots and key performance data for each month and each season are detailed in our documentation of measurement data – this file contains two full seasons as per the writing of this blog post.

In the unlikely case somebody stumbles upon this post when searching for historical weather data for Austria: The English Annals page show the data in a format that is difficult to work with (you need an outdated browser), but CSV files can be downloaded from the German page with historical data. Pick daily data (Tagesauswertung) for the greatest level of detail.

Art from Plastic and Wood

After the musings on Life, the Universe and Everything you deserve a break – and a post with not too much verbiage.

I am borrowing some images from a series of posts the Chief Engineer is currently running on our German blog. (My job title is Science Officer, but we don’t have a Captain).

This is a client’s project. In this case the building has just been built, and the design of water tank and the solar collector for the heat pump had been taken into account in an early stage of the project.

The general concept is the same as shown in earlier posts. The water tank serving as the heat pump’s heat source is placed directly underneath the garage, and the solar/air collector is put on top of it – as a railing to the ‘terrace’.

This is to become the pillars that will support the heat exchanger in the water tank:

Carefully designed to allow for transporting by a small car:

… if you temporarily remove the back seat:

This is the future water tank  / ‘ice storage’ and the supporting construction. The tank will also be used as a rainwater cistern.

Here the heat exchanger tubes have finally been mounted: The same type of ribbed pipes are used that also form the solar collector.

Since the Chief Engineer would have been a carpenter or artist working with wood in an alternative universe, the supporting construction for the solar collector is mainly made from wood.

The larch wood laths with the plastic brackets that will hold the collector tubes:

The German post has been titled with The Coronation of a Garage:

The top and bottom wooden cross-bars are mounted to metal pickets. Then the vertical wooden laths are attached to the horizontal ones and the tubes are clipped on to them – laths are placed in front or behind the tubes alternately.

If somebody from the geek / IT / security world clicked on this and managed to scroll down here – there is also nerdy stuff! We click Refresh on the control system’s web portal all the time right now. But I will keep my promise and stick to the more palpable stuff – in this post!

Measurement Data for Our Heat Pump System – Finally Translated Documentation

In an earlier post  I said

Although we have very innovative, and if I may say so, geeky / nerdy customers it is rather unlikely that we will plan heat pump systems in Australia via sending checklists or doing ‘remote support’ in the same way we work in IT projects.

OK – now we really got a question from a non-German speaker in a remote place who tried to make sense of our mostly German documents. Thus finally I really got started and translated the documentation of measurement data and systems parameters for our heat pump system.

That work sucked all the creativity and research capabilities out of me – so In this post I try to mix some of the diagrams presented in that document with replies to some FAQs.

We had a very warm winter and early spring here in Austria – this was the solar collector last month:

Solar Collector in March 2014. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

It is also reflected in the long-term measurements of ambient temperatures:

Ambient air temperature in Zagersdorf, Eastern Austria. ‘Maximum’, ‘average’, and ‘minimum’ refers to one day, respectively.

Although I find that the collector is quite a cool decoration / replacement for a fence the typical question by visitors is (in addition to the question: Where can we install this so that nobody sees it?)

Can I use flat plate collectors?

Not really if the system should work in a performant way. Actually, those unglazed collectors have been picked deliberately, not because they are cheaper or lighter.

This system should replace any other fossil fuel powered system – we haven’t switched on our gas heater in two years now. Thus it has to harvest energy when it is really cold. Flat solar plate collectors are optimized for harvesting energy from solar radiation in summer; they are designed for minimum losses via convection of air.

Unglazed collectors are typically used for heating swimming pools as you can live with rather high convective losses here. But the highly efficient convective heat transfer is to our advantage in winter – then you gain energy even in the night if the temperature of the air is just a few degrees above the temperature of the brine flowing through the collector.

In summer you have more energy than you need anyway, so we don’t care about ‘convective losses’. Rather on the contrary: we are happy that we dont’ have to worry about high temperature making the brine decompose.

In addition the system is used for passive cooling in summer – that is, the temperature of the water tank (the ‘heat source’, then ‘cold source’) must not exceed a reasonable temperate which is well below the room temperature. This is also in line with the fact that there is a maximum heat source temperature the heat pump can deal with, specified by the manufacturer (about 20°C).

Energy harvested by the collector. The total heating demand of the building is about 18.000 kWh per year, incl. hot water. Nearly all the energy needed is delivered to the water tank via the collector (and a minor part directly from ground). Collector power becomes negative if the system operates in cooling mode.

Can you explain BRIEFLY how the system works?

It is all about using a large tank of water as energy storage: The heat pump extracts heat and cools the water, then freezes it. Either the collector transfers heat to the tank in winter, or the floor heating system delivers heat to it in summer when the heater is actually a cooler.

Energy stored in the Water Tank. The 25m3 water tank corresponds to 430 kWh sensible heat – extracted when cooling water – and 2.300 kWh latent heat – extracted when freezing.

Anything else is the details of hydraulics and control – this is a screenshot of the online monitoring system (a different way to present the hydraulic design shown in the earlier post)

Online monitoring diagram – sketch of the heat pump system showing measurement data. The water tank and the solar collector are the combined heat source of the heat pump. The heat pump works either in ‘space heating mode’ or ‘hot water heating mode’ and diverts the heating water to either circuit. Buffer storages are important for efficient control as the heat pump always operates at its maximum power.

Regarding the hydraulic design a question that comes up very often is about hot water heating:

You heat hot water indirectly by using a tank at 50°C? I don’t believe you that this is sufficient.

Believe me, it is. My very own very long and very hot showering – elementary showering as I call it – is a worst case test. The heat exchanger in this hygienic storage tank has an effective area of nearly 6m2 – that’s rather large, and this is crucial for a heat-pump-powered system.

The operating temperature of the heat pump should be kept as low as possible in order to obtain high coefficients of performance. Thus the temperature difference between tap water and heating water is rather low, and in order to compensate for that and still get reasonable heating powers the area of the heat exchanger should be big. The effective heating power of this heat exchanger is 12kW.

What’s the performance?

We proudly present:

Heating Energy: Space heating and hot water. Total Electrical Energy: Heat pump, brine pump, heating circuit pump. Monthly Coefficient of Performance: Ratio of heating energy and electrical energy. The dotted line indicates the performance factor for the whole period covered in the diagram.

Solar Collector in April 2014

Lost in Translation – an Overdue Update

In this post I try something new: I will keep it short.

This is actually an update long overdue. Months ago I have written a post on how to control the four elements that is how to harvest energy from ambient air, solar radiation, the freezing of water, and ground here.

A loyal reader told me that they tried to figure out how our heat pump system works – based on our German blog. Actually, at that time we mainly posted about the aesthetic value of our solar collector and re-using it as an espalier for tomatoes.

Although we have very innovative, and if I may say so, geeky / nerdy customers it is rather unlikely that we will plan heat pump systems in Australia via sending checklists or doing ‘remote support’ in the same way we work in IT projects. (But don’t hesitate to contact me!)

Nevertheless, since the most recent layout update of our website, it bothers the perfectionist in me that all our technical documents on heat pumps have been only available in German. So I started to translate them. The first one is a summary / ‘folder’ / overview.

Heat pump system using a combined heat source – ambient air, solar radiation, ice, ground (Credits: www.punktwissen.at)

Theoretically this should be self-explanatory.

Some important explanations though:

• The person who has actually created this figure is best described by his tagline: Somebody Doing Anything Nobody Wants to Do. He is a shy engineer spending nearly all this time in his Doc-Emmett-Brown-style inventor’s garage so I cannot link to any English social media profile. Oh wait – except this one… sort of.
• I had to consider the global context when stating that no permits are required (in Austria). This is an insider joke probably only comprehensible to Austrian readers: If there is a worst-case scenario in terms of permits required and bureaucracy in general, it is probably Austria. As we say: Bill Gates would probably not have founded Microsoft here as he couldn’t get the required forms filled out correctly.
• This is the second time my different blog universes cross – and it is very exciting: as the team of Gray’s Anatomy meeting Private Practice. Yes, I do watch TV – I don’t read deep science and philosophy books every evening. The first cross-over occurred when I discussed in German if and how our system would work in Canada in a post that translates to Canadian Challenge … which was actually a rehash of my answers to the comments in the very first blog post in the four elements.

I think I will indulge in that type of cross-overs more often!