As political instability in Eastern Europe casts uncertainty over gas supplies from Russia, the UK government has put forth an ambitious plan to use renewable energy sourced from rivers and lakes to heat British homes.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey has announced that the UK plans to introduce an innovative new water-source heat pump to households throughout the country following the pump’s successful debut in south London as a means of providing hot water to home residences and hotel rooms.

Ed Davey

Ed Davey

The new Ecodan pump has been deployed at Kingston Heights in south London’s Richmond Park at a cost of approximately 2.5 million pounds. The technology works by first extracting water from the nearby Thames River at a depth of around two metres, where the latent heat of the sun maintains temperatures at between eight and 10 degrees Celsius throughout the entire year.

Once the water is filtered twice and channeled through a pump, heat exchangers extract the heat and transfer it to a series of condensers that serve as a form of reverse refrigerator, raising the temperature of the tepid water to over 45 degrees Celsius for use in radiators or bathrooms.

The Ecodan pump requires a modest amount of electricity to operate, yet still qualifies as a form clean renewable energy because it’s a zero carbon system. The technology can theoretically operate using any body of water which is located in the open and exposed to the light of the sun.

While water-source heat pumps already enjoy popularity in Japan and Scandinavia in the form of individual home installations, the new system developed by Mitsubishi and Mike Spenser-Morris of the the UK’s Zero Carbon Partnership is the first which can be scaled upwards for use with mass residential projects, as well as produce water at temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius.

Kingston’s Ecodan pump will commence operation at the end of the month, providing hot water to nearly 150 homes as well as a 140-room hotel in the area. The system is expected to achieve savings on utilities bills of as much as 20 per cent and could cut annual carbon emissions by nearly 500 tons.

The pump garnered the award for best new product or technology at the Climate Week Awards in March, and has been hailed by Davey as a “game changing” development for Britain’s energy market, particularly given increasingly strained relations between the EU and Russia, which is the region’s chief supplier of gas.

Davey has already entrusted the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) with the task of drafting a nationwide map showing where the heat pumps have the potential to be deployed, with the goal of eventually installing a total of 4.5 million of the devices throughout the country.

According to David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to DECC and professor of engineering at Cambridge University, the future of home heating in Britain could very well consist of a mix of heat pumps and low carbon electricity.