Impact of heat pumps on Ireland’s energy system


Ireland plans to deploy 600,000 heat pumps by 2030, including 400,000 that will be installed in existing buildings. The plan will draw on a new €12.9 billion ($13.1 billion) fund that the Irish government has allocated to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), as part of revisions to the country's National Development Plan (NDP) 2021-30.

In a recent study, scientists from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) investigated the potential consequences that this massive plan could have on the country's energy system. They considered costs and determined that the biggest deployments could materialize in areas of high demand for heat, rather than in areas of high renewable electricity supplies.

Their analysis was based on ESRI's Electricity Network and Generation INvEstment (ENGINE) model.

ENGINE determines the generation and transmission assets required to meet increased electricity demand, a change in the geographic location of energy demands, a given renewable energy target and/or a decarbonization policy,” the scientists explained.

The modeling focused on a heat pump penetration that would allow up to 30% of residential heat demand to be covered by such devices. It included the costs of retrofitting the dwellings.

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The results indicate that the new electricity demand from electrified heat requires a significant investment in generation assets, and a small decrease in transmission assets,” they said. “This suggests that the transmission network can be used more efficiently when electricity demand is more dispersed. The greatest cost increase, however,
comes from the retrofit of dwellings, which is far greater than the electricity system costs.”

The scientists said that optimizing the spatial heat pump rollout in Ireland could lead to a small decrease in total energy system costs. Regions with high demand for heat, such as Dublin, will drive demand more than regions with high availability of renewable energy, such as the west coast, they added.

Recent research from the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) shows that the Irish market is currently dominated by air and water source heat pumps. Ground-source and air-to-air and air-source heat pumps account for just a small portion of the total market. At the end of 2020, around 44,000 heat pumps were operational in the country.

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