Dr Marie Cowan, Director, Geological Survey of Northern Ireland reflects on the recent knowledge exchange event examining the future of heat pumps.  

On June 20, 2024, an important heat pump event brought together experts, policymakers, and industry leaders to discuss the future of heat pumps. This event, co-hosted by the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) and Ulster University was a significant milestone in promoting energy efficiency and decarbonisation strategies. 

A collaborative effort 

The event was organised in partnership with GSNI and guided by the Department for the Economy’s Geothermal Advisory Committee. This collaboration ensured a comprehensive agenda that addressed the multifaceted aspects of heat pump technology and its implications for Northern Ireland’s energy landscape. 

Diverse participation 

The event saw the participation of 120 delegates, with a balanced representation from government, the private sector, academia, housing utilities, and financial institutions. The event was chaired by broadcaster and journalist Louise Cullen, with opening speeches by Ulster University Vice Chancellor Paul Bartholomew and Economy Minister Conor Murphy. This diverse attendance highlighted the broad interest and commitment to advancing heat pump technology and its applications. 

Key presentations and insights 

The keynote speaker, Jan Rosenow the Principal and Director of European Programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), set the tone for the event with an insightful presentation. This was followed by contributions from local geothermal sector experts including Simon Todd, Neil Hewitt, Connel McMullan, Ryan Daly, and others. These presentations covered a range of topics, including the strategic context of the energy system, opportunities for heat pump research and innovation, and case studies on public sector, residential and social housing decarbonisation. 

Panel discussions 

The event featured two significant panel discussions with insights from a range of industry experts. The first panel focused on Public Sector Decarbonisation and included speakers like Connel McMullan, Rory Dunphy, Edel Wyse, Andy Frew, and Donal Cotter. The second panel, titled “Value Chain: Manufacturing, Trade Standards, Skills, and Policy,” featured Ryan Daly, Stephen Kelly, Ken Gordon, Paul Henry, and Ryan White. These discussions provided valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities in the heat pump industry, emphasising the need for collaboration across different sectors. 

Planned activities 

Participants had the opportunity to tour the University laboratory and the GeoEnergy Discovery Centre, providing hands-on experiences with the latest research and innovations in geothermal energy. Academic research posters and trade stands from organisations such as the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, Geothermal Association of Ireland, InterTradeIreland, Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Alternative Heat Ltd, and Daly Renewables offered further insights into ongoing projects and industry trends. 

Policy and future directions 

The event underscored the importance of the Climate Change Act (NI) 2022 and the Energy Strategy’s Path to Net Zero. These policies are crucial for driving the adoption of heat pump technologies, which include Air Source, Ground Source, Water Source, High Temperature, Solar Thermal, and hybrid systems. The discussions highlighted the potential of these technologies to create good jobs, promote regional balance, and enhance productivity. 

Conclusion 

The SME Cluster and Knowledge X-Change event at Ulster University marked a significant step forward in the promotion of heat pump technologies in Northern Ireland. The event showcased the collective efforts of various sectors to address climate change and transition to a more sustainable energy system. By fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange, this event has laid the groundwork for future innovations and developments in the field of heat pumps. 

Professor Neil Hewitt, Director, Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice Chancellor, Ulster University, Economy Minister Conor Murphy and Dr Marie Cowan, Director, GSNI standing outside Ulster University

Professor Neil Hewitt, Director, Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice Chancellor, Ulster University, Economy Minister Conor Murphy and Dr Marie Cowan, Director, GSNI