Irish scientists are spearheading an EU-wide research project into a new heating system that could slash home heating bills while helping the environment.
The team at the International Energy Research Centre (IERC) at Tyndall National Institute in Cork, will lead the €8.6m MiniStor project to develop a system which uses special salts to store heat generated by the sun.
It will be tested in a mix of private and social housing units in Ireland, France, Greece, and Hungary, and will involve 17 other research facilities, businesses, non-profits and local authorities across Europe.
The research is being funded under the EU Horizon 2020 programme and is expected to take just over four years to complete.
IERC lead researchers Dr Carlos Ochoa and Dr Yongli Yuan said MiniStor could reduce energy consumption in an average house by 44%, and pay for itself within seven years.
And if implemented widely, the system could help reduce close to 3,396 tons CO2-equivalent per year, they said.
“There is a need to reduce greenhouse emissions and increase the use of renewable energy,” Dr Ochoa said.
“One way to do it is by storing thermal and electrical energy generated by renewable energy sources and use it when needed for either heating or cooling.
Although it could be done through water-based systems, their capacity is limited.”
The MiniStor system is expected to have a capacity 10.6 times higher than the more conventional water-based systems.
IERC director Prof Tony Day said: “The heat will be sourced from the sun, collected using a hybrid photovoltaic thermal panel and stored in the new salt heating system. The stored heat energy can be released for use when required. Furthermore, excess electricity from the sun can be stored in a battery and sold to the grid or used later."
Dr Ochoa said homeowners will be the big winners.
“They will benefit directly from lower heating and cooling bills, the ability to store heat generated by the sun, and the ability to store electrical energy and probably also get paid for it in European countries where this is permitted,” he said.
While still at an early test stage, it's estimated the system will cost €9,850.