First published on the Cleantech Investor website, 20 December 2012
Irish company Glen Dimplex has launched a potentially game changing product, which promises diverse benefits ranging from energy storage capacity (which will facilitate smart grid demand side management initiatives, allowing for an increased mix of renewable energy on the grid) to energy efficiency improvements, with the scope to reduce fuel poverty. These benefits are applicable in any country with both demand for heating and a supply of renewable energy (i.e. any country with a temperate climate). In Ireland, Quantum also offers potential for job creation in the construction industry (through retrofit programmes which look set to be promoted by a Government-backed Energy Efficiency Fund) and enhanced energy security (by potentially reducing Ireland’s €6 billion oil and gas import bill).
The Quantum electric thermal space and water heating system is the product of the largest research and development investment programme in the history of Glen Dimplex. The company, with bases in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, is the world’s largest storage heater manufacturer and ranks amongst Ireland’s largest companies, with revenues of over €2 billion. Glen Dimplex CEO, Sean O’Driscoll, describes Quantum as the most exciting technology ever developed within the group. Like the iPhone or iPad, he says, it makes highly sophisticated technology available to the consumer – but without that technology being visible.
The technology behind the Quantum involves an extremely dense iron ore ‘brick’ which can heat up to a ‘red hot’ 600 degrees Celsius. The brick is insulated with a thin layer of micropore silica material (similar to the materials used by Boeing to insulate jet engines). The insulation retains up to 60% of the heat (which can be generated during off-peak periods – ideally when there is high wind power capacity) for up to 24 hours after it is generated. As Neil Stewart, Managing Director of Glen Dimplex Renewables, puts it:
“The old style storage heaters were designed to leak; the Quantum is designed to keep the heat in.”
The Quantum’s energy efficiency credentials alone mark a major design advance on the previous generation of storage heaters. When combined with smart grid interactivity (which can be deployed by the electric utility for demand side management) the product really does mark a ‘quantum leap’ in technology terms.
In terms of interactivity, the heaters are technology agnostic and will be able to communicate with all smart meter technologies as they become available. The demand side of the smart grid, however, is the key initial focus for Glen Dimplex. An electricity utility can remotely and dynamically switch on and off the charging circuit in the Quantum, according to energy generation and network constraints. This means that a population of Quantum storage heaters can be aggregated and managed as a dispersed energy store with known characteristics – an important demand response tool.
Glen Dimplex has rolled out a major trial with The Green Way (Dublin’s Cleantech Cluster) involving the installation of 360 space heaters in 140 social housing homes managed by the Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. The Green Way demonstration project focuses on electricity demand side response and is being conducted in partnership with Eirgrid and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The project is being independently verified and monitored by the Dublin Institute of Technology and, according to Green Way Chairman, Ronan King, will showcase Dublin as:
“a smart city-region where the public and private sectors can work in partnership to solve energy and environmental challenges”.
Quantum will be marketed around the world by Glen Dimplex, which was founded in 1973 and – through a host of acquisitions – owns leading brands in heating around the world including KKW (the European electrical heating business of Siemens AG acquired in 1990), Chromalox (the Canadian market leader in heating acquired in 1991) and German electric heating businesses EWT and AKO (acquired in 1999). The company already has a healthy order book for the heaters; customers include New Brunswick Power (Canada) and power companies in Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Austria and Japan. Glen Dimplex is working with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive on a project involving 100 homes – and has a project with Scottish and Southern Energy to fit 750 homes in the Shetland Islands with the Quantum system (with a view to exploiting wind energy resources there).
The Dimplex Quantum project was launched at an event in Dublin organised by The Green Way. Ireland’s Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, Pat Rabbitte TD, spoke at length at the launch on the potential for Ireland to deliver “our green potential” and for products such as the Quantum to contribute to Ireland’s economic growth.
The Minister had recently announced plans for an Irish Government-backed Green Fund to kick-start investment in energy efficiency projects. At The Green Way event he confirmed that matched funding from the private sector was being put in place, taking the size of the fund to some €70 million and ensuring that it will be acceptable under EU rules. Sean O’Driscoll confirmed at the event that Glen Dimplex will be amongst the private sector companies to participate in the fund and made a commitment for a contribution of €5 million.
One target of the planned Irish Energy Efficiency fund is to provide jobs for Irish construction workers. Another key goal for energy efficiency – outlined by both Rabbitte and O’Driscoll – is to reduce Ireland’s €6 billion fossil fuel import bill. Quantum offers the scope for both straightforward energy efficiency – but also for the displacement of fossil fuel with electricity generated by wind. Ireland already meets around 50% of its domestic electricity demand from wind and demand response technology offers the potential to up the volume of wind without threatening grid stability.
Ireland has enormous renewable energy resources and is currently negotiating the right to export renewable energy to the UK grid. Minister Rabbitte confirmed, at The Green Way event, that an MOU with the UK is scheduled to be signed early in 2013. The export of renewable energy is being backed by companies such as Mainstream Renewable Power, which stand to benefit from rolling out renewable energy capacity in Ireland. Rabbitte pointed out that deployment of Quantum will permit Ireland to use more of its domestic renewable resources at home – but also affirmed that he sees the increased use of renewables at home as entirely compatible with the growth of a ‘renewables for export’ industry.
Comparisons have been made between Ireland and Denmark, which has a vision to become entirely independent of fossil fuels (the installation of oil-fired central heating systems will be forbidden in new buildings in Denmark from 2013 and in retrofits from 2016). As Sean O’Driscoll pointed out, a by-product of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ years was a 225% increase in Irish oil consumption over two decades. There is now a major drive to reduce that fossil fuel dependency by shifting to domestically manufactured electricity from renewable sources – potentially in parallel with the development of renewable energy exports.
It would have been difficult even four or five years ago to envisage a role for the humble storage heater (historically never the most efficient of products in terms of energy use) in such an ambitious energy policy. However, the Glen Dimplex Quantum marks a quantum leap forward for Ireland – and offers an opportunity for Irish energy policy and Irish technology to set an example for nations around the world.