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Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

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A framework to monitor the integrated multi-source space heating

systems to improve the design of the control system
Xinming Li a , Mustafa Gul a, , Tanzia Sharmin a , Ioanis Nikolaidis b , Mohamed Al-Hussein a

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, 9105 116th St, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Department of Computing Science, 2-21 Athabasca Hall, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 8 July 2013
Received in revised form 21 October 2013
Accepted 23 December 2013
Renewable energy
Ground source heat pump
Energy saving
COP improvement
Enhanced control system

a b s t r a c t
Building space heating contributes to high consumption of energy using primarily non-renewable energy
sources. Usage of renewable energy sources is constrained by high initial costs and long-term payback.
This paper presents an empirical research study to evaluate the design of the control system and the performance of an integrated heating system utilizing renewable energy sources by means of a geothermal
eld, solar energy, and drain water heat recovery (DWHR) system. Two main challenges we attempt
to address are: (1) the ground source heat pump (GSHP) system is designed to function only as a
heating system causing heat loss from the geothermal eld and (2) high heating load is required in
cold-climate regions. The proposed integrated space heating system uses mainly geothermal energy,
which is supported by solar and DWHR systems to recover the heat loss from the geothermal eld.
The framework is validated through a residential building under occupancy where, a monitoring system is installed to evaluate the coefcient of performance of the space heating system. Based on the
ndings, adjustments in the design of the heating system controls are proposed to enhance system
2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction
1.1. Ground source heat pump system
Geothermal heat is an efcient source of energy with significantly lower CO2 emissions than conventional fossil fuels [1].
Approximately 47% of ground thermal energy is absorbed from
the sun [2]. This thermal energy stored in the ground manifests
in diverse ways. While the earth surfaces temperature uctuates
readily, the ground temperature at shallow depth (below 9 m)
remains constant for years [1,3,4]. Furthermore, geothermal energy
classied by source temperature is used for power production as
well as for cooling and heating systems. Geothermal sources of
temperature above 150 C are used for power production, while
moderate temperatures (between 90 C and 150 C) and low temperatures (below 90 C) are suitable for space heating or cooling
[5,6]. The residential facility used as a case study in this research
uses low temperature sources for space heating [7] in the form

Abbreviations: GSHP, ground source heat pump; GHE, ground heat exchanger;
DWHR, drain water heat recovery; SHTS, solar heat transfer station; SAGSHP, solarassisted ground source heat pump system; COP, coefcient of performance; HDPE,
high-density poly-ethylene.
Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 780 492 3002.
E-mail address: (M. Gul).
0378-7788/$ see front matter 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

of a geothermal heating system using a ground source heat pump

(GSHP) system.
A ground source heat pump comprises three main elements:
a ground heat exchanger (GHE), a heat pump, and a distribution
system [8,9]. The GHE, which is the main component, uses shallow
ground as its energy source and a water/glycol mixture as the transport medium. The underground temperature, it should be noted, is
warmer than the outside air temperature in winter, but cooler than
the outside air temperature in the summer. The mixed uid ows
through buried piping, storing heat, and releasing it into the soil
under the building site. A low-power circulating pump circulates
the uid. In winter, a GSHP system can extract heat from shallow
ground to provide energy for space heating. In summer, the system is reversed to transfer heat out of the building using the cooler
ground as a heat sink [10,11].
GHEs can be further congured as either open-loop or closedloop [11]. Open-loop exchangers use surface or underground water
sources as a direct heat source. Normally, this operation can be
completed at a lower cost and with less loss during heat transfer
than closed-loop. However, spatial constraints limit usage of the
open loop, and the water present in the system usually causes
corrosion over time [12]. The closed loop, on the other hand, circulates water through pipes that can be installed either vertically or
horizontally. The vertical closed loop is widely used since it is not
limited by surface area. However, in this system, initial excavation
costs are generally high [13]. In the research described in this

X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410



Thermal Energy, kilojoules (kJ)

Specic Heat (kJ/kg C)
Mass of uid within a period of time (kg)
Temperature difference ( C)
Density of uid (kg/m3 )
Volume of uid (m3 )
Mass ow rate of uid (kg/hr)
Volume ow rate of uid (m3 /hr)
Temperature of return pipe ( C)
Temperature of supply pipe ( C)
Serving time or operation time (hrs)
sun radiation historical information (kWh/m2 /day)
Average efciency factor
Energy wasted percentage

paper, closed-loop GHEs are utilized in an occupied building due

to the given space limitations.
GSHP has two other components: a heat pump and a distribution
system. The heat pump is operated based on a vapor-compression
refrigeration cycle [14]. During this cycle, the pump effectively
raises the temperature of the ground source using electrical power
to drive the compressor [15]. The lifespan of the mechanical parts
involved is approximately 50 years [16]. Since heat pumps consume
less primary energy than conventional heating system, fewer harmful CO2 emissions are produced in the process [17,18]. In this regard,
a coefcient of performance (COP) is used to evaluate the performance of heat pumps. According to previous research, ground
source heat pumps have a higher COP than regular heat pumps,
such as air-source heat pumps [19,20].
As opposed to specic hot-climate regions where the heating
and cooling systems require almost equivalent loads all year round,
in cold-climate regions larger GHEs are required since the heating
load is much greater than the cooling load [21]. Roth, similarly, has
identied two major challenges related to use of conventional heat
pumps in cold regions: that the heating load is greater than the cooling load, and that heating capacity and COP decrease as the outside
temperature drops [22]. Since the cooling load in summer cannot
be guaranteed to offset the heating load in winter, long-term operation could result in an irreversible decrease in the temperature of
the underground eld and end up with a heat loss. In this case, the
COP of the heat pump could also be markedly reduced. However,
use of a larger GHE is constrained by initial cost and space size [23].
Consequently, the use of an efciently designed integrated system
will supply energy in a manner which ensures energy savings.
Bakirci and Colak have investigated the performance of vertical GSHPs during Turkeys coldest seasons (Jan.Feb., 2010).
They found that the use of a superheating and sub-cooling heat
exchanger (SHCHE) can improve COP by 0.10.2. Solar energy combined with a GSHP system, which serves to increase the efciency
of the heat pump, is also widely used in cold regions [18]. Zhai
et al. have summarized the integrated approaches of GSHP, indicating that integrating a GSHP system with a solar thermal system
effectively provides thermal energy to buildings for which heating demands signicantly exceed cooling demands, and is able to
operate with a high COP of 3.5, which is much better than the performance of a traditional GSHP system [21]. However, the climate
conditions, building functions, and thermal balance of the ground
eld affect the design of such renewable energy-based heating systems. The rst solar-assisted GSHP was recommended by Metz in
1982 [23]. It was Penrod, in an earlier study, who established the
idea of storing solar energy in the ground [23,24].


In cold regions, the performance of the GSHP can be improved by

utilizing solar energy, which is referred as a solar-assisted ground
source heat pump system (SAGSHP). For such systems, solar energy
system can be installed on the source side of heat pump to increase
the inlet temperature of heat pumps. Meanwhile its energy production can be directly sent to the ground eld to compensate the heat
loss of the eld and recover the eld back to the balance in cold
regions. With the assistance of solar energy, this comprehensive
utilization not only offsets the deciency of GSHPs by facilitating
soil temperature eld recovery, but also provides intermittent heat
to the building [10,25]. Bakirci et al., in a study of cold-climate residential heating in Erzurum, Turkey, found that the COP of a SAGSHP
was enhanced to the range of 3.03.4, while the overall heating
system COP was 2.73.0 [26]. Investigating a similar cold-climate
region, a research group from Hong Kong, China, has utilized TRNSYS simulation software to forecast the performance for 20 years
of continuous operation under the climatic conditions of Beijing,
China. Compared to a conventional GSHP system, a SAGSHP system for space heating and domestic hot water improves efciency
by a margin of 26.3% [27]. However, results from another study by
the same research group simulating the performance of a SAGSHP
in the cold-climate region of Harbin, China, which has comparable
weather conditions to Fort McMurray, Canada, showed SAGSHP to
perform with a lower efciency of 2.84. As such, they recommended
against its utilization in extreme weather in the interest of energy
and cost saving [28]. Using the same software, Niu et al. have concluded that system efciency decreases more rapidly when there
is a greater difference between the heating load and cooling load
exerted on the GSHP [29]. The case that is being addressed in this
paper is the special condition when only heating load is required.
1.2. Objective and scope
In a cold-climate region such as Fort McMurray, with very low
ambient temperature and relatively low underground temperature
in winter, only an optimal integration of a number of renewable
energy sources can lead to efcient energy production [30]. Solar
energy is a clean and renewable resource, and an essential component of sustainable energy for space heating and water heating
[26]. It can either as direct heating energy or be stored in summer as spare energy and drawn upon by the geothermal eld for
energy recovery. Another energy source used in this case study is
a drain water heat recovery (DWHR) system, due to the fact that
DWHR extracts heat from wastewater, and in this way can collect
and reuse up to half of the energy in the wastewater and utilize it to
preheat cold water travelling to the water heater. Based on previous
studies, this translates to heating cost savings of up to 40% [2,31],
and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In this project DWHR
is designed to also increase the efciency of the GSHP system. Natural gas, nally, is widely used as an energy source, particularly in
Fort McMurray, which has considerable natural gas reserves underground. This source is used to fuel boilers, which heat uid to a
preset temperature to be circulated throughout the building.
As discussed above, most of the existing research with respect to
GSHP systems has investigated cases where these systems are used
for both heating and cooling. This paper, however, investigates the
use of GSHP in a cold-climate region where only heating load is
required, which introduces additional challenges. Therefore, in this
paper, an integrated heating system is proposed and implemented
in a residential building under occupancy in Fort McMurray, where
heating is a major contributor to total energy consumption. For this
integrated system, solar, and drain water heat recovery (DWHR)
assist the GSHP system in combination with natural gas, which is a
highly efcient resource.
Since cold weather challenges the use of the GSHP system, especially when it is not designed as a cooling system to recover heat


X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

Fig. 1. Project building management layout and long-term research direction.

from buildings in summer, the rst objective of this research is to

explore the integrated heating system performance using sensorbased monitoring (data collection and data analysis). Analysis is
presented based on the early data collected with particular emphasis on data over the transition from winter to summer (March
May), where the impact of seasonality can be readily appreciated.
Based on the analysis results, suggestions are made to improve
the efciency of the system. The second objective of this study is
thus to improve the COPs of each heating system, minimizing the
operating cost, and satisfying the large heating demands typical of
cold-climate regions by developing a better control system. Thus,
if an enhanced control system is developed and utilized, a GSHP
system assisted by solar and DWHR can be considered an effective
means to provide energy in cold-climate regions. This framework
is also expected to reduce the potential environmental footprint
by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fig. 1 illustrates the general framework of the project and research direction; (it should be
noted that not all of the components presented in Fig. 1 fall within
the scope of this paper).
2. Proposed methodology implementation
2.1. Case study introduction
This paper describes in detail the monitoring of integrated heating source-assisted GSHP systems for space heating in residential
buildings in a cold-climate region. The project, Stony Mountain
Plaza [32], comprises two residential buildings located in Fort
McMurray, Alberta, Canada (56 43 35 N 111 22 49 W). The entire
project has been designed based on the principles of energy saving, high efciency, and low operational cost, and has been built
based on a modular construction approach in order to reduce construction cost and cycle time. One of the two residential buildings
has been chosen for this research. Ten geothermal vertical circuit loops with 8 boreholes at a depth of 91.44 m (300 ft) and
diameter of 12.7 cm (5 in) per circuit are installed under the building. 1.91 cm (3/4-in) high-density poly-ethylene (HDPE) pipes are
installed inside the borehole to transport 13.6% methanol with heat.
At this juncture it is important to note two challenges regarding

this project: (1) that GSHP systems are not designed to function
as cooling systems to recover heat from buildings in summer, and
(2) that a large amount of energy is consumed for building space
heating in Fort McMurray due to extreme dry-cold weather. To
overcome these challenges, an integrated system is proposed to
bolster the GSHP system, including solar heating and DWHR. Natural gas-burning boilers are another main heating contributor in this
2.2. Proposed methodology
Geothermal energy is a sustainable and renewable resource.
This energy source is cost-effective, reliable, and environmentallyfriendly if the system is properly designed. The primary challenge
related to GSHP systems is the task of maintaining a balance in
annual energy. Normally, the GHE works both as a heating system in winter and a cooling system in summer in order to make
the energy absorbed equivalent to that rejected. Fig. 2(a) depicts
an example of the available thermal energy variance in the GHE
expected over one year. The geothermal loop extracts heat from the
earth when it is in heating mode in winter and the energy in the eld
decreases. During summer, the eld temperature rises as energy
is transferred back into the ground. Fig. 2(b) demonstrates how
the available thermal energy in the eld uctuates while the wave
range remains relatively consistent throughout the year, (despite
occasional slight decreases observed), if the GHE works efciently.
Unlike typical practice, the GSHP system in Stony Mountain Plaza is
not designed as a cooling system in summer, since heating is more
necessary than cooling for the given climate. In this case, the temperature of the GHE decreases gradually, exerting a negative impact
on the geothermal systems efciency. Fig. 3 demonstrates how
the expected GHE temperature from the available thermal energy
uctuates under these conditions. As shown by the dashed line in
Fig. 3(a), if the heating mode is active during the winter months,
the energy decreases, followed by only a slight increase in summer
due to the characteristics of the earths surface. Thus, as years pass,
the GSHP system may decline in effectiveness, as shown in Fig. 3(b).
To address this challenge, solar and DWHR systems are integrated to support the GSHP system. The solar energy system

X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410


Fig. 2. GHE energy expected distribution by using GSHP for heating and cooling.

Fig. 3. GHE energy expected distribution by using integrated heating system.

directly injects its produced energy to GHE while the recycled

heat from drain water increases the inlet temperature of the heat
pumps and indirectly injects its energy to the GHE. Energy from
both solar and intermittent drain water can therefore be collected
to recover the heat lost in the underground eld. The aim of this
approach is to use the integrated heating system to achieve longterm maintenance of the GSHP system, illustrated in Fig. 3(a) and
(b), where the solid lines represent the targeted values. As advanced
in the above discussion, combining the GSHP system with solar, and
drain water systems extends the lifetime of the GSHP system and
provides signicantly more thermal energy than can an independent GSHP heating system. Coordinating these four main systems
is expected to be energy-efcient and to provide thermal energy
within the constraints of budget, space, and energy resource availability. The following sections provide a more detailed discussion
of the integrated heating system for this project.

3. Experimental design of the building heating monitoring

Based on the previous analysis, the buildings under investigation are designed to be served by integrated systems, including
geothermal, solar energy, DWHR, and conventional electric or natural gas. Fig. 4 depicts the heating system schematic. On the
source-side of the heat pumps, the system provides solar panels
with a total surface area of 28.7 sq. m mounted on the roof of
the building. Solar energy system circulates 13.6% methanol with
the collected energy to recover the heat to the GHEs and indirectly increase the entering temperature of the water-to-water heat
pumps. The DWHR system, including eleven stacks that recycle
the drainage heat from seventy apartment units through parallel copper loops, increases the temperature from the GHE to the

Fig. 4. Heating system schematic with monitoring design for case study.


X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

Fig. 5. Original heating system control algorithm.

heat pumps, and indirectly recovers the heat to the GHE. Gathering
the source-side energy, heat pumps powered by electricity produce
thermal energy with an expected COP of 2.8. In addition to these
renewable energy sources and purchased electric power, natural
gas-burning boilers are utilized to provide additional heat to the
building when needed. The driving power to operate the pumps in
each loop is supplied by electricity. Once these systems are combined, the temperature of the water storage tank is increased to a
set point which satises occupant requirements.
Fig. 4 illustrates the monitoring design with sensors locations.
Twelve temperature sensors, ten status sensors, and six power
usage sensors have been designed and installed in the mechanical room for the purpose of monitoring the performance of energy
generation from each heating system and the COP of heat pumps. In
addition, ow rate samples have been measured on the corresponding pipes as well. Electrical meters, energy meters, and water usage
meters, which correlate to the heating system analysis, have also
been installed in twelve out of seventy apartment units to monitor
building performance [33].
3.1. Original heating system control algorithm
Each system is designed to collaborate under precise rules.
To be more specic, the outside temperature and the hot water
storage tank set point temperature control the heating mode.
When the outside temperature decreases below 15 C, the GSHP
system heating mode turns on and four heat pumps start to work
based on various set point tank temperatures. When the outside
temperature falls below 20 C, the GSHPs switch off while two
natural gas-burning boilers turn on. Heat pumps 1, 2, 3, and 4 and
boilers 1 and 2 begin to heat water and transfer it to the water tank
when the temperature of the water tank falls below the specic
set points of 4447 C and 6371 C, respectively. As for the solar
panels, the solar heat transfer system is switched on to bolster the
GHE loop when the temperature in the GHE loop falls below the
temperature in the monitored solar panels. Freeze protection is
also considered in order to protect the pipe from freezing. In addition, the DWHR system is activated whenever water drains, and
the recovered heat is recycled to preheat water in the tank. Fig. 5
shows the owchart of the original heating system control algorithm, which species how the systems connect and collaborate

with one another. However, in reality, based on the performance

of each heating system in the winter months, recommendations to
change each set point have been proposed in the interest of energy
savings, and further suggestions are still anticipated following
further data calibration analysis in the next few years of this study.
3.2. Equations and calculations based on the collected data
The energy production and COP for the heat pump equations
are derived in order to estimate the energy generation from each
heating system and to evaluate the performance of the heat pumps.
Thermal energy loss or gain (Q) in the pipes can be calculated using
a specic heat equationEq. (1). It should be noted that the specic
heat capacity (C) in Eq. (1) is dened as the amount of heat required
to raise the temperature of the unit mass of a substance by 1 C.
The total thermal energy loss or gain is calculated satisfying Eq. (3),
which is derived from Eqs. (1) and (2).


M =V


Q = C M T = C Rm t (TSupply TReturn )
= C  Rv t (TSupply TReturn )


The COP represents the thermal efciency for power cycles by

calculating the ratio of the heating output over the electrical energy
consumed, satisfying Eq. (4).
COP of Heat Pump = (Energy production from heat pump (GJ))
277.78/(Heat pump power consumption (Kwh))


Production cost as discussed in this paper refers to the total

energy production cost of the system. It is used for electricity and
natural gas production cost comparison.
Production Cost = (Energy source unit cost ($))
(Energy source quantity)/(Energy production (GJ))


X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410


Table 1
Circulating uid, corresponding sensors, and multipliers for each system (Legends refer to Fig.4).

Fluid (%)

Supply temp ( C)

Return temp ( C)

Flow rate (L/min)

Specic heat (KJ/Kg. C)

Density (Kg/M3 )

Solar energy system

DWHR system

13.6 Methanol
13.6 Methanol
15 Glycol
15 Glycol

T14, T15





4. System performance and analysis

The designed sensors were installed in the mechanical room
on March 15, 2013 for the purpose of monitoring the performance
of energy generation from each heating system, as well as the
COPs. Data is being collected by the data management system and
transferred to the University of Alberta server at 20 s intervals. By
analyzing the data obtained from monitoring, the production and
efciency of the individual systems as well as of the integrated system can be ascertained. As a result of this research, valuable system
performance patterns, user interface, and enhanced control system
can be obtained by which engineers can make further adjustments
to heating system designs. What remains of this section outlines
the heating resources and system production analysis based on the
data collected during the period, March 15 to June 6, 2013. Circulating uid, corresponding sensors and multipliers for each system are
listed in Table 1. Legends in T and Flow in Table 1 are explained
in the monitor design (Fig. 4) with the locations of sensors.
4.1. Solar panels
Ten solar panels with a total area of 28.7 square meters have
been installed on the roof of the building to collect solar energy.
Solar panels connect to a SHTS, which is a preinstalled and leaktested unit with integrated heat exchanger and Tyfocor-L uid
circulating through a primary loop. The SHTS transmits thermal
energy to the underground eld through supply and return pipes
on the secondary loop with 13.6% methanol. The amount of energy
generated from the solar energy system can be estimated by monitoring the temperatures of the supply and return pipes on the
secondary loop.
The solar energy system production is calculated by using
monitored data on a weekly basis, as presented in Fig. 6. During
the reported time period, SHTS generated increasing energy with
a decreasing proportion of wasted energy as the transition from
winter to spring and summer occurs. In general during the winter
and spring, the SHTS has been wasting energy at night and in the
early morning because it is required to run every 20 min when the

outside temperature is below 2 C for freeze protection. As a result,

10 to 20% of energy from the heating loop has been wasted by the
solar energy system at night in winter due to this freeze protection.
Additionally, since the circulating pumps continued to operate,
they led to further electricity wastage. The corresponding COP of
the solar energy system increased from 7 to 30 corresponding to
seasonally increasing temperatures, as summarized in Table 2. The
solar energy system also performed with less efciency in winter
than it did in spring or summer.
In order to improve the COP of the solar energy system,
more effective control of operation design can be used to make
adjustments to the existing solar energy system. Based on this
observation, the solar loop circulating pump should run when the
temperature of the solar supply pipe is higher than the temperature
of the return pipe. In addition, the concentration of Tyfocor-L uid
in the solar primary loop may be increased meanwhile, adjustments
should be made to decrease the set point for freeze protection.
A clear energy production pattern is observable in Fig. 7, which
presents sample solar energy production performance based on
weekly readings every Friday during the reported period. The efcient operating period expands corresponding to the overall rise
of outside temperature from March to May. In winter (March
and April), low solar heating system production is encountered
between the hours of 6 p.m. and 10 a.m. During this period, energy
waste can be circumvented by avoiding running the primary loop.
This adjustment can save a considerable amount in annual operational costs and make an improvement in the COP of the solar
energy system by 1 to 2. In addition, during spring nights, due to
the cooler uid coming from the GHE loop, the solar energy system
can provide a small amount of energy to recover the GHE.
Annual solar energy production estimation model is created
based on annual sun radiation information from NASA Surface
Meteorology and Solar Energy [34] and the heat production
rates from measurement for April and May, 2013. Energy wasted
percentage and average efciency factor are considered in this
sensor-based monitoring and estimation. Energy wasted percentage represents the energy wasted due to the freeze protection of
the solar energy system, which is the ratio of negative production to

Fig. 6. Solar energy system production and energy wasted (2013).












3.2 3.3
Expected with proposed
control system










Current monitor




Expected with proposed
control system



Current monitor





Expected with proposed
control system


Current monitor
COP of solar








Weeks (2013)

Table 2
Coefcient of performance of solar energy system, DWHR system, and heat pumps.

the total energy production in a month. Efciency factor illustrates

the energy collected by the solar panels over the sun radiation,
which is the ratio of positive production to sun radiation information. Assumptions have been made to estimate the energy wasted
percentage for the other ten months, while the average efciency
factor is calculated as 40% from the measurement of April and May,
Q = Ra Avg(E)




X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410



(1 + W %)


Therefore, the energy production from the other ten months

can be estimated by Eq. (6), where A represents the total area of
solar panels, 28.7 m2 in this case, while t is the number of days
in the corresponding month. Fig. 8 shows the monthly production
from the solar energy system, with an annual production of up to
50 GJ, peak monthly production of 8 GJ in June, and low monthly
production of less than 1 GJ in December.
4.2. Drain water heat recovery
The building includes eleven DWHR stacks which recycle heat
from the drain water from the 70 apartment units. Each drain water
pipe is entwined with coil which contains circulating uid. The
DWHR systems are wrapped with insulation to prevent energy loss
to the ambient environment, and each heat recovery unit connects
to a main heat loop. By monitoring the drain water pipes and heat
loop pipes, data regarding the amount of thermal energy recycled
from the drain water pipe, thermal energy transferred to the heat
loop, and the efciency of the heat transfer can be obtained. The
total energy savings from this system can thus be estimated by
adding up the heat recovered from each unit. A particular DWHR
stack which connects to four one-bedroom apartments and four
two-bedroom apartments has been chosen for monitoring, and
temperature sensors have been installed on corresponding supply and return pipes. This DWHR stack alone could result in 0.5
to 0.7 GJ in weekly recycled energy based on the multipliers given
in Table 1.
In addition, the average water usage per apartment is calculated
after measuring water usage from twelve out of seventy apartments
from the end of December, 2011.The average daily hot water usage
of a one-bedroom apartment has been determined to be 100 l, while
a two-bedroom can be expected to use up to 120 l per day. Based
on the ratio of water usage from one stack to the total water usage
of the seventy apartments in the testing period (March 15 to June
6, 2013), the corresponding system energy recycled by the eleven
DWHR is been appraised. Fig. 9 indicates the weekly energy production from the eleven DWHR systems, which range from 5.5 to
7.5 GJ. The efciency of the DWHR system, which is determined
by the fraction between heat recycled and power energy used for
hot water, approximately stabilizes at 60%. The weekly water usage
from the apartments is found to be relatively constant through the
year, which entails that the heat recycled from the DWHR system
will also remain the same. In this case, the annual production from
the DWHR can be estimated to be 350 GJ.
The COP of the DWHR system ranges from 6 to 8. Since the
circulating pumps on each unit and the pump on the main DWHR
heat loop are always on, they waste energy and electricity. If the
recycled heat cannot exceed the electricity energy usage to power
the circulating pump, it is not worthwhile to operate the DWHR
system. It is suggested that the DWHR system be controlled by the
temperature difference between the supply and the return pipe.
To achieve energy production which is triple the rate of power
consumption, each DWHR system has to run when the difference
between the supply and return pipes on the energy collection loop
reaches 0.35 C. In this case, the COP of DWHR can increase to the
1620 range, with a 58% reduction in energy production. To attain

X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410


Fig. 7. Solar energy system production performance (sample data for Friday over the reported period).

Fig. 8. Solar energy system production prediction based on annual sun radiation [34].

Fig. 9. DWHR system energy production (2013).

a higher COP, each DWHR system runs when the temperature

difference between the supply and return pipes on the energy
collection loop reaches 1.37 C, in which case the COP of DWHR can
increase to the 2832 range, with a 2330% reduction in energy
production. However, the purpose of utilizing DWHR is not to
provide heat to the building directly, but recover the GHE and
enhance the efciency of the GSHPs, i.e., a small amount of energy

injected to the GHE can bolster GHE energy recovery. Therefore, a

COP of 1620 is adequate for this project, given in Table 2.
4.3. Ground source heat pumps
Eighty underground geothermal loops at a depth of approximately 90 m serve as heat exchangers under the building. Four


X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

Fig. 10. Heat pump energy production vs. outside temperature (2013).

Fig. 11. Geothermal GHE energy production (2013).

water-to-water heat pumps, which gather heat from the DWHR

systems and solar heating system, are located in the basement
of the building. On the source side of the heat pumps, a circulating pipe connects to the geothermal GHE, DWHR systems, and
solar heating system. On the load side of the heat pumps, the
water storage tank links to the heat pumps through the supply
pipe and return pipe. When the outside temperature is below
15 C but above 20 C, heat pumps are ready to operate. With
the assumed ow rate of 170 liters per minute (L/min) per heat
pump during the testing period, heat pumps generated during the
reported period 182.8 GJ as output based on the measurement,
as given in Fig. 10. The production from heat pumps apparently
relates to the heating load requirements, and is inversely proportional to outside temperature. The total COP of heat pumps
is calculated as approximately 2.6 by using the measurement
of weekly energy production and electricity consumption data
from heat pumps in Eq. (4). This COP value, 2.6, is lower than
expected, with an average production rate of 3.0 MJ/min per heat
The low entering source temperature (EST) and high entering
load temperature (ELT) of the heat pumps are the main factors leading to the low COP. To increase the COP of heat pumps, adjustments
should be made either by adding more solar panels or large condensers on the source side of the heat pumps to increase the EST,
or by modifying the set point of the tank temperature based on
the heating load requirement in each specic outside temperature,
which is discussed in section 5, to reduce the ELT. These recommendations can improve the COP of the heat pumps to the range
of 3.23.3 according to heat pump performance data. Furthermore,
four heat pumps are currently in active mode, while generally only
two heat pumps are required for heating in winter. In order to
maintain the heat pumps, the four heat pumps can be grouped into

two pairs which alternate operation, switching active every three

4.4. Ground heat exchanger
The output energy of the heat pump equals the source input
plus the power usage of the heat pumps. From this methodology,
the energy generated from GHE can be estimated, as illustrated
in Fig. 11. Clearly, the production of the GHE decreases in the
spring and summer seasons with the warmer outside temperatures, which is in accord with the previous theoretical analysis.
However, it is inaccurate to predict the performance of GHE energy
production based on a few months results. Once comprehensive
annual data is obtained, reliable forecasting of the performance of
the geothermal heating system will be carried out. For instance,
if the amount of energy injected to the underground eld during
summer is much greater than the amount of energy produced
in winter, the GHE will not decline in effectiveness; otherwise,
adjustments must be made before system performance declines
further. What is apparent is that a longer time period of monitoring
will yield more accurate results.
Based on the rst twelve weeks of monitoring (March 15 to June
6, 2013), the energy production of each renewable source from
source side of heat pump (Fig. 12) is obtained from the measurement and calculations. The solar energy system, DWHR system,
and GHE drew 15, 71 and 14% of source-side production for heat
pumps, respectively. To be more specic, the solar energy system
production varies with the sun radiation from week-to-week in
contrast to the consistency of energy recycling that the DWHR system produces because of the fairly stable weekly water usage of
the apartments; the GHE energy production will be further derived
after a longer period of monitoring.

X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410


Fig. 12. Heat energy production from each renewable source on the source side of heat pumps (2013).

Fig. 13. Energy production percentages between renewable and paid resources (2013).

4.5. Boiler loop

Boilers are used for generating heat for residential purposes by
heating mixed uid (15% glycol) to a preset temperature and circulating that uid throughout the building. Natural gas is widely
used as an important energy resource, and Fort McMurray is no
exception, given that this particular geographic area has sufcient
natural gas reserves underground. Natural gas is utilized as the fuel
for boilers to heat the water, which can then be used for various
processes and heating applications. Two boilers are installed in the
basement to provide heat to the building. The boilers play an important role when the GSHP cannot satisfy the heat requirements of
the occupants. When the outside temperature is lower than 20 C,
natural gas is selected as a more cost-effective heating resource
than electricity (used to power the heat pumps).
Following the same principles as given in other systems, by measuring the temperature difference and ow rate on the circulating
pipes, the thermal energy generated from the boilers can also be
obtained. Each boiler works with a ow rate of 303 L/min. Temperatures of the supply and return pipes for boilers 1 and 2 are
measured, respectively. The production results indicate that the
boilers were more active at the beginning of the testing period in
March, with an average production rate of 5.5 MJ/min per boiler,
which doubles the production rate of the heat pump.
A comparison between the paid resources of electricity and natural gas is made according to the given energy production from the
heat pumps and boilers. Heat pumps are found to operate with an
average production rate of 3.0 MJ/min when the outside temperature is above 20 C, and the boilers operate as the sole source
of heat when the temperature falls below this threshold, with an
average production rate of 5.5 MJ/min. Fig. 13 shows the energy
production percentage between renewable and paid resources.
Within these twelve weeks of monitoring, renewable resources

produced up to 55% of energy, while the other 45% of energy was

provided by the paid resources, comprising electricity (32%), and
natural gas (13%).

5. Heating consumption
Space heating energy usage meters were installed in twelve out
of seventy apartment units at the end of December, 2011 in order
to obtain annual heating consumption for the coming years. It
was found that heating load is required in winter while no cooling
load is required in summer. The average heating consumption of
one-bedroom and two-bedroom units every hour was calculated
based on monitoring data in the testing period from May, 2012
to April, 2013. 43 one-bedroom and 27 two-bedroom apartments
are included in this building. Therefore, the entire building heating consumption in every hour and the entire building heating
consumption per year are estimated. The entire building could
consume up to 500 GJ per year, with the peak monthly load of
approximately 110 GJ in December, as illustrated in Fig. 14, not
including energy consumption from the basement, where only
mechanical equipment is located.
From the above analysis and data collection from the monitoring system, the estimation of required hourly heating load for
entire building and the data collection of outside temperature are
investigated, with the relationship plotted in Fig. 15 with outside
temperature on the x-axis and hourly heating load on the y-axis.
It illustrates the hourly heating requirement in relation to outside
temperature. No heating load is required when the outside temperature is above 15 C. A clear pattern is identied by the trend
line, which subsequently leads to the polynomial in Eq. (7). The
enhanced heating system control algorithm can be adjusted according to this equation, dening a lower set point for the water storage


X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

Fig. 14. Monthly building heating load vs. outside temperature.

Fig. 15. Building heating loads vs. outside temperature.

Fig. 16. Proposed heating system control algorithm.

tank based on the load demand associated with outside temperature changes.
Load(T) = 2 106 T 3 + 9 105 T 2 0.0044T + 0.0423


where Load shows the hourly heating load requirement in GJ and

T shows the outside temperature in C.

6. Conclusion
This paper has investigated an integrated heating system comprising a solar energy system, DWHR system, and GHE as the
source-side renewable resources for the heat pump. Electricity
drives the heat pump and produces the required heat, which is
then stored in water storage tanks. The integrated heating system

X. Li et al. / Energy and Buildings 72 (2014) 398410

operates in such a way that solar and DWHR assist the GSHP systems. Boilers work as auxiliary heaters in winter, generating heat
by burning natural gas. The heating system performance has been
investigated using the weekly energy production and COPs of each
heating system generated by the monitoring system. An enhanced
control system has also been derived from the monitoring system,
which can improve the COP of the heating system in the interest of
energy saving and high efciency. The following conclusions have
been drawn based on the results obtained from the empirical data
collected using the sensor based monitoring system.

1. The proposed monitoring design and calculations can capture

the performance of the heating system with energy production results and efciency, which provides valuable outcomes
to engineers for adjustment of the current system and future
heating system design.
2. Annual production from the solar energy system can be up to
50 GJ with 28.7 m2 solar panels based on measurement and estimation. The monthly production from the solar energy system
varies through the year from less than 1 GJ in December to the
peak production of 8GJ in June. However, the research results
show that there is energy waste during winter nights, which
can be avoided by implementing the enhanced control system
proposed in this study.
3. The DWHR system continuously recycles heat from drainage,
which is approximately consistent for the observed duration.
The annual production for the DWHR system is estimated to be
350 GJ. This system can achieve an impressive efciency of 60%,
i.e., it recycles 60% of the thermal energy from the wastewater.
4. The COPs of solar and DWHR system are 20.8 and 7.6, respectively, with the existing control algorithm. From the proposed
monitoring and data analysis, unnecessary power usage should
be avoided when operating renewable resources, which can
enhance the COPs to 22.0 and 16.8, correspondingly.
5. With long-term operation of GSHP, low efciency is believed to
be caused by the fact that unbalanced heating and cooling load
or even no cooling load to the GHE decreases the efciency of
GSHP. GSHP systems run this risk in cold-climate regions unless a
better-designed integrated system can be widely embraced and
6. The COP of the integrated heating system with solar- and DWHRassisted GSHPs can achieve a COP in the range of 2.22.6 when
it is designed only for heating in the cold-climate region of Fort
McMurray. This integrated heating system still needs improvement for the purpose of energy saving.
7. Recommendations are made to enhance the efciency of the system by making adjustments to the existing control algorithm,
given in Fig. 16. The proposed changes in the control system are
highlighted. The ideas are to avoid the unnecessary power consumption and energy waste of solar energy system and DWHR
system and to increase the COP of heat pump.

Ostensibly, twelve weeks of data are not adequate to predict the

performance of the GHE. A longer period of monitoring will provide
more accurate results. Once additional comprehensive data have
been obtained, it will be possible to observe the performance of the
GHE and compare the energy production and energy recovery from
the GHE with annual results, which will result in valuable information for the design of the GSHP system, as well as for predicting
the efciency of solar- and DWHR-assisted GSHPs in the coming
years. The percentage of energy production from the solar energy
system and DWHR system will also be claried, which will support
engineers subsequent source-side design of the heat pump based
on cold-climate heating demands.


This research work has been developed within the scope of
the Stony Mountain Plaza project in Fort McMurray, Alberta,
Canada. It is a multi-disciplinary research project by the University
of Alberta. The authors would like to thank to NSERC and all the
sponsors: Cormode & Dickson Construction Ltd., Integrated Management and Realty Ltd., Hydraft Development Services Inc., TLJ
Engineering Consultants, BCT Structures, and Wood Buffalo Housing and Development Corporation. The authors would also like to
thank all of the contributors who made this research possible, David
Morrow, Steve Hughes and Gordon White.
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