Heat pumps are the most efficient heating system available today, so much so that some models and types of heat pumps are able to turn up to 300% of the energy they consume into heat. This has led many people to wonder if heat pumps can generate electricity. So, can heat pumps generate electricity?
In this article, we will look at whether or not heat pumps are able to generate electricity, and if so how can they play a significant part in decarbonization and transition into renewable, and sustainable sources of energy.
Can a heat pump generate electricity?
No, a heat pump on its own cannot generate electricity, the only thing a heat pump can generate is heat. But, the heat generated by a heat pump can later be transformed into electricity.
While there has been a lot of research into this topic, the idea of a heat pump generating electricity defies all the physics laws we know, and it is often pointed as one of the possible solutions for the never-ending search for a perpetual motion system that could create energy out of thin air.
Heat pumps alone are not able to generate electricity, they are only able to generate heat. However, as you know heat can be converted into electricity. So, can you use your heat pump to generate electricity the same way you would use a solar panel?
A heat pump as an electricity generator
Let’s consider the most advanced and efficient heat pump system that is able to turn 300% of the energy used to operate it into heat. To be able to transform this heat into energy, you would require a thermoelectric generator. However, the problem is that despite the high efficiency of heat pumps, thermoelectric generators are extremely inefficient at about 10%.
This means that if you use 1 kW to operate your heat pump, it can produce up to 3 kW. However, even the best and most advanced thermoelectric generator will only be able to transform the heat into 0.3 kW. This means that in this process you would end up losing 0.7 kW.
So while it would be possible for a heat pump to produce electricity, it would be an extremely inefficient system, in which you would spend more electricity keeping the heat pump and thermoelectric generator working than the electricity produced by both units.
The future of heat pumps and its environmental impact
Heat pumps remain an important tool that we can use in the transition to a more sustainable living because they prevent unnecessary waste of energy. While they can’t be used efficiently as an electricity generator, they can produce heat at a much lower energy cost.
In the future, there may be more advanced thermoelectric generators that are able to have much better efficiency, but for now, it seems a far too distant innovation. In fact, so far that even the most advanced thermoelectric generator would have to improve its efficiency by more than 330% just to be able to break even. In the sense, that the heat produced by the heat pump would not be lost.