Duncan Steven on Heat Pumps and Community Renewables

Duncan Steven is a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Strathclyde who has recently joined the consultancy team here at Locogen. He’s already making an impact on key projects and during his first few months at the company he has been working on the design aspect of district heating schemes, as well as domestic-scale ground/air source heat pumps. Here, Duncan tells us how he got into renewables, the work he does and what inspires him.

Why did you choose to make your career in renewables?

Renewable energy was always something that I had an interest in, but I didn’t fully realise my enthusiasm and passion for it until beginning my studies at university. It was there that I had the chance to learn about the technology in depth, and to meet like-minded people who were pursuing careers in the sector. The learning was exciting as there is so much potential for renewable energy to shape a low carbon future, and it is likely to majorly transform for the better the way that our society runs. It has become more and more obvious that we cannot rely on fossil fuels for our energy in the future, and we urgently need to accelerate the movement towards a low carbon economy I wanted to be in a career where I could contribute to this change and work on exciting new projects. 

What most excites you?

One idea that particularly excites me is the potential to implement renewable technologies on a large scale in developing countries, avoiding fossil fuels so as not to follow the footsteps of more developed countries. I was lucky enough to spend part of my university studies in Rio de Janeiro on exchange and while there the opportunities for communities living in poverty to adopt renewable energies were clear. I realised how much we take our 24/7 access to electricity and heating for granted. I hope to be able to work on projects that will address this issue in developing countries at some point in my career.

What have you been working on?

Since joining Locogen, I have been primarily been working on renewable heat projects, including district heating networks, ground source and air source heat pumps. The UK is targeting an 80% reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 and there has been lots of attention around the decarbonisation of heat with renewable energy generation. It has been estimated that just under half of the UKs energy demand is from heating and there is a lot of change required in this area if we are to meet our targets.

With the grid becoming more integrated with renewables, heat pumps are a great way of decarbonising our heat supply via electrification. They can be up to 4-5 times more efficient than direct electric heating, and they can be used to replace high carbon heat sources such as oil and gas that we heavily rely on currently. Heat pumps can be used in individual properties or to create district heating schemes to lower fuel bills for communities, ultimately helping to alleviate fuel poverty. Locogen have been working on a few of these community district heating projects, which utilise shared loop heat pump networks to extract heat from the ground and distribute it amongst properties. It has been great being able to apply the knowledge I acquired during my university studies to contribute towards the design of these networks and learn from the experienced team members around me.

What are the benefits heat pumps can bring?

Asides from reducing carbon emissions, heat pumps are a viable way of considerably lowering fuel bills and reducing fuel poverty. They are also eligible for the government’s renewable heat incentive (RHI) which means anyone who installs one can be paid for the renewable heat that their system produces. Their application isn’t just limited to heating either, they can be used for cooling properties in hot countries or for industrial cooling by effectively running them in reverse.

How do you see things changing in your area of the industry?

If heat pumps are adopted as heating solutions on a large scale, there will be a substantial increase in power demand which our current power system would be incapable of meeting – this is the key challenge in electrifying heat. Essentially, heat pumps need to be integrated with onsite storage, smart energy management systems, and renewable generation technologies, such as solar and wind, so that peaks in demand can be reduced or shifted.

Please contact us if you’d like to find out more about heat pumps and renewable heating technologies.

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