The earth’s surface acts as a huge solar collector, absorbing radiation from the sun. In the UK, the ground maintains a constant temperature of 11-13oC several metres below the surface all the year around. Among many other alternative energy resources and new potential technologies, the ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) are receiving increasing interest because of their potential to reduce primary energy consumption and thus, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Direct expansion GSHPs are well suited to space heating and cooling and can produce significant reduction in carbon emissions. In the vast majority of systems, space cooling has not been normally considered, and this leaves ground-source heat pumps with some economic constraints, as they are not fully utilised throughout the year. The tools that are currently available for design of a GSHP system require the use of key site-specific parameters such as temperature gradient and the thermal and geotechnical properties of the local area. A main core with several channels will be able to handle heating and cooling simultaneously, provided that the channels to some extent are thermally insulated and can be operated independently as single units, but at the same time function as integral parts of the entire core. Loading of the core is done by diverting warm and cold air from the heat pump through the core during periods of excess capacity compared to the current needs of the building. The cold section of the core can also be loaded directly with air during the night, especially in spring and fall when night times are cooler and day times are warmer. The shapes and numbers of the internal channels and the optimum configuration will obviously depend on the operating characteristics of each installation. Efficiency of a GSHP system is generally much greater than that of the conventional air-source heat pump systems. Higher COP (coefficient of performance) is achieved by a GSHP because the source/sink earth temperature is relatively constant compared to air temperatures. Additionally, heat is absorbed and rejected through water, which is a more desirable heat transfer medium due to its relatively high heat capacity.

Figure 1: Sketch of installing heat pump

The GSHPs in some homes also provide:

  • Radiant floor heating.
    • Heating tubes in roads or footbaths to melt snow in the winter.
    • Hot water for outside hot tubs and
    • Energy to heat hot water.

With the improvement of people’s living standards and the development of economies, heat pumps have become widely used for air conditioning. The driver to this was that environmental problems associated with the use of refrigeration equipment, the ozone layer depletion and global warming are increasingly becoming the main concerns in developed and developing countries alike. With development and enlargement of the cities in cold regions, the conventional heating methods can severely pollute the environment. In order to clean the cities, the governments drew many measures to restrict citizen heating by burning coal and oil and encourage them to use electric or gas-burning heating. New approaches are being studied and solar-assisted reversible absorption heat pump for small power applications using water-ammonia is under development.

An air-source heat pump is convenient to use and so it is a better method for electric heating. The ambient temperature in winter is comparatively high in most regions, so heat pumps with high efficiency can satisfy their heating requirement. On the other hand, a conventional heat pump is unable to meet the heating requirement in severely cold regions anyway, because its heating capacity decreases rapidly when ambient temperature is below -10°C. According to the weather data in cold regions, the air-source heat pump for heating applications must operate for long times with high efficiency and reliability when ambient temperature is as low as -15°C. Hence, much researches and developments have been conducted to enable heat pumps to operate steadily with high efficiency and reliability in low temperature environments. For example, the burner of a room air conditioner, which uses kerosene, was developed to improve the performance in low outside temperature. Similarly, the packaged heat pump with variable frequency scroll compressor was developed to realise high temperature air supply and high capacity even under the low ambient temperature of –10 to –20°C. Such a heat pump systems can be conveniently used for heating in cold regions. However, the importance of targeting the low capacity range is clear if one has in mind that the air conditioning units below 10 kW cooling account for more than 90% of the total number of units installed in the EU.

  1. Meathods and Laboratory Measurements

This communication describes the details of the prototype GSHP test rig, details of the construction and installation of the heat pump, heat exchanger, heat injection fan and water supply system. It also, presents a discussion of the experimental tests being carried out.

2.1. Main Experimental Test Rig

The schematic of the test rig that was used to support the two ground-loop heat exchangers is shown in Figure 1. It consisted of two main loops: heat source loop and evaporation heat pump. Three horeholes were drilled each 30 meters deep to provide sufficient energy. The closed-loop systems were laid and installed in a vertical well. The ground-loop heat exchangers were connected to the heat pump.

2.1.1. Direct Expansion Heat Pump Installation

The experimental work undertaken was separated into three parts. The first part dealt with drilling three boreholes each 30 meter deep, digging out the pit and connection of the manifolds and preparation of coils. Holes were grouted with bentonite and sand. The pipes were laid and tested with nitrogen. Then, the pit was backfilled and the heat pump was installed. The second part was concerned with the setting up of the main experimental rig: construction and installation of the heat injection fan, water pump, expansion valve, flow meter, electricity supply, heat exchanger and heat pump. The third part was an installation of refrigerator and measurements.

The aim of this project is to present and develop a GSHP system to provide heating and cooling for buildings (Figure 2). The heat source loop consisted of two earth loops: one for vapour and one for liquid. A refrigeration application is only concerned with the low temperature effect produced at the evaporator; while a heat pump is also concerned with the heating effect produced at the condenser.

Figure 2: Shows the connections of ground loops to heat pump and heat exchanger

The earth-energy systems, EESs, have two parts; a circuit of underground piping outside the house, and a heat pump unit inside the house. And unlike the air-source heat pump, where one heat exchanger (and frequently the compressor) is located outside, the entire GSHP unit for the EES is located inside the house.

The outdoor piping system can be either an open system or closed loop. An open system takes advantage of the heat retained in an underground body of water. The water is drawn up through a well directly to the heat exchanger, where its heat is extracted. The water is discharged either to an above ground body of water, such as a stream or pond, or back to the underground water body through a separate well. Closed-loop systems, on the other hand, collect heat from the ground by means of a continuous loop of piping buried underground. An anti-freeze solution (or refrigerant in the case of a DX earth-energy system), which has been chilled by the heat pump’s refrigeration system to several degrees colder than the outside soil, and circulates through the piping, absorbing heat from the surrounding soil.

The direct expansion (DX) GSHP installed for this study was designed taking into account the local meteorological and geological conditions. The site was at the School of the Built Environment, University of Nottingham, where the demonstration and performance monitoring efforts were undertaken Figures (3-4). The heat pump has been fitted and monitored for one-year period. The study involved development of a design and simulation tool for modelling the performance of the cooling system, which acts a supplemental heat rejecting system using a closed-loop GSHP system. With the help of the Jackson Refrigeration (Refrigeration and Air Conditioning engineers) the following were carried out:

  • Connection of the ground loops to the heat pump
    • Connection of the heat pump to the heat exchanger
    • Vacuum on the system
    • Charging the refrigeration loop with R407C refrigerant

Figure 3: Showing the drilling (1-2) digging of the pit (3), connection of the manifolds (4), grouting, preparation of the coils (5-6) and the source loop, which consists of two earth loops: one for vapour and one for liquid (7-9)

2.1.2. Water Supply System

The water supply system consisted of water pump, boiler, water tank, expansion and valve flow metre (Figure 4). A thermostatically controlled water heater supplied warm water, which was circulated between the warm water supply tank and warm water storage tank using a pump to keep the surface temperature of the trenches at a desired level.

Figure 4: Showing preparation of coils (1-2), installation of heat pump (3-6) and connection of water supply system (water pump, flow metre, expansion valve and the boiler) (7-9)

The ground source heat pump system, which uses a ground source with a smaller annual temperature variation for heating and cooling systems, has increasingly attracted market attention due to lower expenses to mine for installing underground heat absorption pipes and lower costs of dedicated heat pumps, supported by environmentally oriented policies. The theme undertakes an evaluation of heat absorption properties in the soil and carries out a performance test for a DX heat pump and a simulated operation test for the system. In fact, these policies are necessary for identifying operational performance suitable for heating and cooling, in order to obtain technical data on the heat pump system for its dissemination and maintain the system in an effort of electrification. In these circumstances, the study estimated the heat properties of the soil in the city of Nottingham and measured thermal conductivity for the soil at some points in this city, aimed at identifying applicable areas for ground source heat pump system.

2.2. Design and Installation

Installation of the heat pump system and especially, the ground heat exchanger needs to be carefully programmed so that it does not interfere with or delay any other construction activities. The time for installation depends on soil conditions, length of pipe, equipment required and weather conditions. The DX systems are most suitable for smaller domestic applications.

The most important first step in the design of a GSHP installation is accurate calculation of the building’s heat loss, its related energy consumption profile and the domestic hot water requirements. This will allow accurate sizing of the heat pump system. This is, particularly, important because the capital cost of a GSHP system is generally higher than for alternative conventional systems and economies of scale are more limited. Oversizing will significantly increase the installed cost for little operational saving and will mean that the period of operation under part load is increased. Frequent cycling reduces equipment life and operating efficiency. Conversely, if the system is undersized design conditions may not be met and the use of top-up heating, usually direct acting electric heating, will reduce the overall system efficiency. In order to determine the length of heat exchanger needed to piping material. The piping material used affects life; maintenance costs, pumping energy, capital cost and heat pump performance.

2.3. Heat Pump Performance

The need for alternative low-cost energy resources has given rise to the development of the DX-GSHPs for space cooling and heating. The performance of the heat pump depends on the performance of the ground loop and vice versa. It is, therefore, essential to design them together. Closed-loop GSHP systems will not normally require permissions/authorisations from the environment agencies. However, the agency can provide comment on proposed schemes with a view to reducing the risk of groundwater pollution or derogation that might result. The main concerns are:

  • Risk of the underground pipes/boreholes creating undesirable hydraulic connections between different water bearing strata.
    • Undesirable temperature changes in the aquifer that may result from the operation of a GSHP.
    • Pollution of groundwater that might occur from leakage of additive chemicals used in the system.

Efficiencies for the GSHPs can be high because the ground maintains a relatively stable temperature allowing the heat pump to operate close to its optimal design point. Efficiencies are inherently higher than for air source heat pumps because the air temperature varies both throughout the day and seasonally such that air temperatures, and therefore efficiencies, are lowest at times of peak heating demand.

A heat pump is a device for removing heat from one place – the ‘source’ – and transferring it at a higher temperature to another place. The heat pumps consist of a compressor, a pressure release valve, a circuit containing fluid (refrigerant), and a pump to drive the fluid around the circuit. When the fluid passes through the compressor, it increases in temperature. This heat is then given off by the circuit while the pressure is maintained. When the fluid passes through the relief valve the rapid drop in pressure results in a cooling of the fluid. The fluid then absorbs heat from the surroundings before being re-compressed. In the case of domestic heating the pressurised circuit provides the heating within the dwelling. The depressurised component is external and, in the case of ground source heat pumps, is buried in the ground. Heat pump efficiencies improve as the temperature differential between ‘source’ and demand temperature decreases, and when the system can be ‘optimised’ for a particular situation. The relatively stable ground temperatures moderate the differential at times of peak heat demand and provide a good basis for optimisation.

The refrigerant circulated directly through the ground heat exchanger in a direct expansion (DX) system but most commonly GSHPs are indirect systems, where a water/anti-freeze solution circulates through the ground loop and energy is transferred to or from the heat pump refrigerant circuit via a heat exchanger. This application will only consider closed loop systems. The provision of cooling, however, will result in increased energy consumption and the efficiently it is supplied. The GSHPs are, particularly, suitable for new build as the technology is most efficient when used to supply low temperature distribution systems such as underfloor heating. They can also be used for retrofit especially in conjunction with measures to reduce heat demand. They can be particularly cost effective in areas where mains gas is not available or for developments where there is an advantage in simplifying the infrastructure provided.

2.3.1. Coefficient of Performance (COP)

Heat pump technology can be used for heating only, or for cooling only, or be ‘reversible’ and used for heating and cooling depending on the demand. Reversible heat pumps generally have lower COPs than heating only heat pumps. They will, therefore, result in higher running costs and emissions. Several tools are available to measure heat pump performance. The heat delivered by the heat pump is theoretically the sum of the heat extracted from the heat source and the energy needed to deliver the cycle. Figure 5 shows the variations of temperature with the system operation hours. Several tools are available to measure heat pump performance. The heat delivered by the heat pump is theoretically the sum of the heat extracted from the heat source and the energy needed to derive the cycle. For electrically driven heat pumps the steady state performance at a given set of temperatures is referred to as the coefficient pf performance (COP). It is defined as the ration of the heat delivered by the heat pump and the electricity supplied to the compressor:

COP = [heat output (kWth)] / [electricity input (kWel)](1)

For an ideal heat pump, the COP is determined solely by the condensation temperature and the temperature lift:

COP = [condensing temperature (oC)] / [temperature lift (oC)] (2)

Figure 5: Variation of temperatures per day for the DX system

Figure 6 shows the COP of heat pump as a function of the evaporation temperature. Figure 7 shows the COP of heat pump as a function of the condensation temperature. As can be seen, the theoretically efficiency is strongly dependent on the temperature lift. It is important not only to have as high a source temperature as possible but also to keep the sink temperature (i.e., heating distribution temperature) as low as possible. The achievable heat pump efficiency is lower than the ideal efficiency because of losses during the transportation of heat from the source to the evaporator and from the condenser to the room and the compressor. Technological developments are steadily improving the performance of the heat pumps.

Figure 6: Heat pump performance vs evaporation temperature

Figure 7: Heat pump performance vs condensation temperature

The need for alternative low-cost energy has given rise to the development of the GSHP systems for space cooling and heating in residential and commercial buildings. The GSHP systems work with the environment to provide clean, efficient and energy-saving heating and cooling the year round. The GSHP systems use less energy than alternative heating and cooling systems, helping to conserve the natural resources. The GSHP systems do not need large cooling towers and their running costs are lower than conventional heating and air-conditioning systems. As a result, GSHP systems have increasingly been used for building heating and cooling with an annual rate of increase of 10% in recent years. While in some zones such as hot summer and cold winter areas, there is a major difference between heating load in winter and cooling load in summer. Thus, the soil temperature increases gradually after yearly operation of the GSHP system because of the inefficient recovery of soil temperature as the result of imbalance loads (Figure 8). Finally, the increase of soil temperature will decrease the COP of the system.

Figure 8: Seasonal temperature variations

The first law of thermodynamics is often called the law of conservation of energy. Based on the first law or the law of conservation of energy for any system, open or closed, there is an energy balance as:

[Net amount of energy added to system] =
[Net increase of stored energy in system] (3)
[Energy in] – [Energy out] = [Increased of stored energy in system] (4)

In a cycle, the reduction of work produced by a power cycle (or the increase in work required by a refrigeration cycle) equals the absolute ambient temperature multiplied by the sum of irreversibilities in all processes in the cycle. Thus, the difference in reversible and actual work for any refrigeration cycle, theoretical or real, operating under the same conditions becomes:

Wactual = Wreversible + To ∑I (5)
I is the irreversibility rate, kW/K.
To is the absolute ambient temperature, K

Refrigeration cycles transfer thermal energy from a region of low temperature to one of higher temperature. Usually, the higher temperature heat sink is the ambient air or cooling water, at temperature To, the temperature of the surroundings. Performance of a refrigeration cycle is usually described by a coefficient of performance (COP), defined as the benefit of the cycle (amount of heat removed) divided by the required energy input to operate the cycle:

COP = [Useful refrigeration effect]/
[Net energy supplied from external sources] (6)

For a mechanical vapour compression system, the net energy supplied is usually in the form of work, mechanical or electrical and may include work to the compressor and fans or pumps. Thus,

COP = [Qevap] / [Wnet] (7)

In an absorption refrigeration cycle, the net energy supplied is usually in the form of heat into the generator and work into the pumps and fans, or:

COP = (Qevap) / (Qgen + Wnet) (8)

Figure 9: Seasonal performance for individual months and average for 2008

In many cases, work supplied to an absorption system is very small compared to the amount of heat supplied to the generator, so the work term is often neglected. Applying the second law of thermodynamic to an entire refrigeration cycle shows that a completely reversible cycle operating under the same conditions has the maximum possible COP. Table 1 lists the measured and computed thermodynamic properties of the refrigerant. Departure of the actual cycle from an ideal reversible cycle is given by the refrigerating efficiency:

ηR = COP / (COP)rev (9)

2.3.2. Seasonal Performance Factor (SPF)

There are primary two factors to describe the efficiency of heat pumps. First, the coefficient of performance (COP) is determined in the test stand with standard conditions for a certain operating point and/or for a number of typical operating points. Second, the seasonal performance factor (SPF), describes the efficiency of the heat pump system under real conditions during a certain period, for example for one year. The SPFs in this case are the ratio of the heat energy produced by the heat pump and the back-up heater and the corresponding energy required of the heat pump. The SPF for individual months and an average value for the year 2008 for the DX GSHP are shown in Figure 9. The assessment of the 2008 measurement data for the GSHP in the buildings providing both heating and cooling reveals a seasonal performance factor (SPF) of 3.8. The SPF of the individual system was in the range of 3.0-4.6.

Figure 10: Comparison of calculations and experiments for saturated soil with groundwater flow (SSG)

The preliminary results show that the GSHP are especially promising when it comes to reaching high efficiencies under real conditions. However, there is still a need for optimisation in the integration of the unit in the supply system for the house and for the control strategies of the heat pump. Thus, a poorly integrated heat source or an incorrectly designed heat sink can decrease the seasonal performance factor of the heat pump. The main point to consider is the careful layout of the system as a whole, rather than with respect to single components. High installation costs have been identified as a major barrier to wider application of the GSHPs often referred to as geothermal heat pumps. The primary reason cited for higher cost is the ground loop. Other factors may be high costs of the GSHP heat pump units and supplies, interior installation, and limited competition. The ground-source machine had lower demand (summer and winter) and lower heating energy use than either of the air heat pumps. Comparisons with natural gas must be based on cost since the units for natural gas (therm = 100,000 Btu) are different than electrical energy unit (kWh).

  1. Comparison of Numerical Simulation and Experiments

The GSHPs are generally more expensive to develop, however, they have very low operating cost, and justify the higher initial cost. Therefore, it is necessary to have an idea of the energy use and demand of these equipments. The performances are normally rated at a single fluid temperature (0°C) for heating COP and a second for cooling EER (25°C). These ratings reflect temperatures for an assumed location and ground heat exchanger type, and are not ideal indicators of energy use. This problem is compounded by the nature of ratings for conventional equipment. The complexity and many assumptions used in the procedures to calculate the seasonal efficiency for air-conditioners, furnaces, and heat pumps (SEER, AFUE, and HSPF) make it difficult to compare energy use with equipment rated under different standards. The accuracy of the results is highly uncertain, even when corrected for regional weather patterns. These values are not indicators for demand since they are seasonal averages and performance at severe conditions is not heavily weighted.

Figure 11: Comparison of calculations and experiments for saturated soil without groundwater flow (SS)

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends a weather driven energy calculation, like the bin method, in preference to single measure methods like seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), seasonal performance factor (SPF), energy efficiency rating (EER), coefficient of performance (COP annual fuel utilisation efficiency rating (AFUE), and heating season performance factor (HSPF). The bin method permits the energy use to be calculated based on local weather data and equipment performance over a wide range of temperatures. Both solid and liquid parts co-existed in one control volume of non-isothermal groundwater flow. It was therefore necessary to integrate the two parts into one energy equation. Accordingly, the governing equation describing non-isothermal groundwater flow in a saturated porous medium was as follows:

T (Δv) + (δT/δt) σ = αt Δ2T + qt/ (ρCp)f (10)
(ρCp)t = ψ (ρCp)f + (1- ψ) (ρCp)s (11)

Latent heat during phase changes between freezing soil and thawing soil was regarded as an inner heat source described as follows:

WH (σd) δfs/δts = qs (12)
(δT/δt) σ + Ux δTf/δx = αt Δ2T + qt/ (ρCp)f (13)
Cp is the specific heat (J kg-1 K-1); q is the internal heat source (Wm-3).
W is the water content in soil (%); T is the temperature (°C).
H is the condensation latent heat of water (J kg-1).
t is the times (s); U is the velocity (ms-1).
fs is the solid phase ratio.
s is the soil; f is the groundwater.
Ψ is the porosity.
α is the convective heat transfer coefficient (Wm-2K-1).
δ is volumetric specific heat ratio.
ρ is the density (kg m-3).

Figure 12. Comparison of calculations and experiments for unsaturated soil without groundwater flow (US).

The experiments and calculations are conducted for unsaturated soil without groundwater flow (US), saturated soil without groundwater flow (SS) and saturated soil with groundwater flow (SSG) under same conditions and their results are compared with each other in Figures 10-12. The temperature in vertical boreholes used, as heat source for GSHPs will slowly drop with time, the more so the more energy is extracted. This can be mitigated either by a deeper borehole (in a new installation) or a system to replenish the energy extracted from the hole (in both new and existing installations). Raising the brine temperature from -5°C to 0°C may improve the COP by 10-50% depending on the type of heat pump.


The direct expansion (DX) ground source heat pump (GSHP) systems have been identified as one of the best sustainable energy technologies for space heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings. The GSHPs for building heating and cooling are extendable to more comprehensive applications and can be combined with the ground heat exchanger in foundation piles as well as seasonal thermal energy storage from solar thermal collectors. Heat pump technology can be used for heating only, or for cooling only, or be ‘reversible’ and used for heating and cooling depending on the demand. Reversible heat pumps generally have lower COPs than heating only heat pumps. They will, therefore, result in higher running costs and emissions and are not recommended as an energy-efficient heating option. The GSHP system can provide 91.7% of the total heating requirement of the building and 55.3% of the domestic water-heating requirement, although only sized to meet half the design-heating load. The heat pump can operate reliably and its performance appears to be at least as good as its specification. The system has a measured annual performance factor of 3.16. The heat pump system for domestic applications could be mounted in a cupboard under the stairs and does not reduce the useful space in the house, and there are no visible signs of the installation externally (no flue, vents, etc.).

The performance of the heat pump system could also be improved by eliminating unnecessary running of the integral distribution pump. It is estimated that reducing the running time of the pump, which currently runs virtually continuously, would increase the overall performance factor to 3.43. This would improve both the economics and the environmental performance of the system. More generally, there is still potential for improvement in the performance of heat pumps, and seasonal efficiencies for ground source heat pumps of 4.0 are being achieved. It is also likely the unit costs will fall as production volumes increase. By comparison, there is little scope to further improve the efficiency of gas- or oil-fired boilers.

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