blog Logo


Meeting the Energy Trilemma

15/05/2017 | By: Edward Thompson | #Innovation

Policy Trilemma WEB

With the UK struggling to find a secure, affordable and green energy supply, Edward Thompson, director at the Ground Source Heat Pump Association, explains how heat transfer and ground source energy systems can help meet the energy trilemma, and why recycling isn’t exclusive to plastic bags and old newspapers; it can be used for heat too.

Policy advisers are seeking high energy security, low carbon emissions and low prices for heating and cooling.

The government wants to escape from the image of being held to ransom by the need to import gas from unstable states. The fear of lights going out haunts the politicians. Everyone recognises the need to move to a low carbon economy. The Treasury does not want to meet the costs in a time of austerity. These objectives are seen as irreconcilable – symbolised by an image of an Escher triangle that would be impossible to construct.
Energy Trilemma WEB

However, carbon emissions come from combustion – whether of gas, oil, coal or biomass. While there is no alternative to burning aviation spirit for flying, the majority of UK carbon emissions comes from heating and cooling buildings.

There is an elegant alternative to combustion for heating and cooling buildings: it is called heat transfer and is managed by heat pumps.

Heat transfer is much more efficient if heat pumps start with warmth from the ground in winter – instead of starting from freezing air. The stored warmth in the winter ground comes from solar energy in the previous summer: no need to rely on gas from unstable states like Russia which would love the chance to interrupt our energy security.

On the cost front there is no form of heating with a lower annual cost than a well-designed ground source energy system. The capital cost of installing ground source energy is higher than installing a gas boiler for heating, but loans can be obtained to spread the cost of installation and loans can be paid back from the annual savings (and the Renewable Heat Incentive). If a building needs heating and cooling then the capital cost of ground source energy may well be lower than the costs of installing a gas heating system to heat the building in winter, and a separate cooing system to pay to waste all the heat away into the atmosphere in summer. A joined-up heating and cooling system is also cheaper to run each year because the heat extracted in the summer can be stored in the ground and recycled back to the building in winter. Recycling is not just for shopping bags, it can be used for heat too.

So the next time you hear someone wonder how to meet the Energy Trilemma you can ask them if they have heard of ground source heat pumps. A GSHP is cheap to run, emits no carbon dioxide at all and contributes to the UK’s energy security. Trilemma resolved.

Edward Thompson WEBAfter reading science at Oxford, qualifying as a Chartered Accountant and working in finance, computing and venture capital Edward joined ICAX ltd which has developed the ideas that led to Interseasonal Heat Transfer, Thermal Banks and solar assisted ground source energy. This novel approach to harnessing ground source energy has provided innovative systems for supermarkets, schools, community centres and for district heating based on heat transfer and underground thermal energy storage.

Share Page


  • John Moss

    With all due respect, we should underline the need for the heat stored in the ground to be replaced.

  • Peter Mellor

    I would be very interested to get some data from an unbiased source to demonstrate efficiency