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HomeEnergy & MeHeat pumps and solar panels: an unbeatable tag team for your green...

Heat pumps and solar panels: an unbeatable tag team for your green home?

Amid high inflation and climate-induced events, many households today are wrestling with ideas on the most cost-effective and green solutions for their home’s energy supply.

An obvious answer here can be simple: more renewables. However, picking the right renewable energy can be difficult, especially considering the constant growth of innovative options stemming from solar, wind, nuclear, thermal and geothermal energy.

Indeed, photovoltaics and heat pumps have both dominated the prosumer market in recent years. However, whilst discussions among prosumers have often centred on which installations can be better suited for a given household, it is equally important to highlight the benefits of both installations in combination.

Heat pumps are best known for converting large amounts of thermal energy for heating purposes. Interestingly, heat pumps have noted increased interest in Central and Eastern Europe in recent years. For example, Poland was among the countries in Europe with the most sold heat pumps in 2022, according to data from the European Heat Pump Association.

However, whilst such installations play a significant role in lowering heating costs, their function is limited beyond that as heat pumps are unable to generate power. In contrast, photovoltaic solar power generation from sunlight is able to satisfy the electricity needs of an entire home.

Unlike heat pumps, photovoltaic solar panels offer greater versatility and are particularly appealing when substantial amounts of electricity are used for various tasks. However, it is important to remember that this installation is generally not as durable as heat pumps, especially ground-source heat pumps and may require more frequent maintenance. Additionally, while photovoltaic solar panels generate energy with broader applications, they produce a lower overall energy output compared to heat pumps.

Essentially, when deciding between a heat pump and solar panels, prosumers have to consider desired energy generation, specific usage needs and system longevity. However, by combining both installations, a prosumer can better address most of the above-mentioned gaps in both heat pumps and solar panels, providing greater flexibility but also greater efficiency.

Combining both installations also offers flexibility in terms of upfront costs and maintenance costs. With the former often associated with heat pumps and the latter with solar panels, deciding on both can help to better balance out these costs. In addition, many prosumers across Central and Eastern Europe, particularly those in the EU, can pick from a range of different subsidy programmes.

Looking again at Poland, the country’s “Clean Air” subsidy programme offers financing of up to 14,850 euros for clean energy installations such as heat pumps. Whilst its “My Electricity” programme covers up to 50 per cent of the costs of a photovoltaic installation with the installed power ranging from 2 to 10 kilowatts (kW) and up to 1,125 euros.

In terms of the technical benefits of this tag team, it is particularly interesting to consider maximising the utility of each installation. When using solar panels, only approximately 50 per cent of the generated energy can be directly utilised. The remaining energy is fed back into the grid, preventing homeowners from storing it for future needs – luckily, this limitation can be addressed by heat pumps.

Heat pumps operate by emitting heat at low temperatures consistently over a prolonged period of time, resulting in low and steady energy demand. As a result, both air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps enable individuals to enhance their solar energy utilisation by around 20 per cent.

From a climate perspective, powering heat pumps with electricity generated from solar panels can also significantly maximise a home’s efficiency in reducing its carbon footprint. More specifically, solar panels are able to power the compressor and fans of air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps (two main types).

However, the size and efficiency of a given solar panel are important to consider as a small or inefficient solar panel system may not be able to generate enough electricity to power the heat pump, especially during peak demand. Thus, in many cases, mixing solar with heat pumps can help cut electricity costs in running heat pumps but not completely cut a home’s dependence on the grid.

Notwithstanding, both installations in combination are great solutions for prosumers looking for greater flexibility and maximising their installations’ utilisation and their home’s carbon footprint reduction.

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