What is the COP?

The  energy efficiency of a boiler is usually quoted in percentage terms.  e.g. If a boiler is said to be 90% efficient, then 90% of the gas energy comes out as useful heat to water, and 10% is lost as heat out of the flue.

Heat pumps require electricity to function. They transfer heat from outside and the power input is typically between 1/2 and 1/5th of the available heat output.    We normally use the  ‘coefficient of Performance’ (COP) as the measure of efficiency.

In the example below the COP is 3, so 3 kWatts of useful heat are delivered to the house for the cost of 1kW of electricity. This is actually 300% efficient, and only possible due to the 2kW being extracted from the garden.    (Note an electric heater is 100% efficient, or COP = 1.    All electricity ends up as heat)

The graph below gives an idea of the COP variations of a typical heat pump.  This shows the difference in temperure between the source and the heat-delivery side.   If you assume the heat pump’s source is zero Celsius, you can read the horizontal (X axis) scale as the heated water temperature.

Heat Pump COP graph depending on operating temperatures

This is an example of a typical ground source product label. Every unit should have this type information on it. It shows ratings at various temperature conditions.

‘B0′ relates to source glycol inlet at 0ºC’, ‘W35’ relates to heated water flow outlet of 35ºC.     As you can see, the COP rating varies depending on the operating temperatures, and broadly agrees with the graph above.   Never read a COP figure without questioning what temperatures the figure relates to.

The input power should include power for fans and pumps within the unit.  It should also include any energy required for air source defrosts (maybe 10%).  Beware of optimistic ratings that relate to warmer days given that an air source heat pump will do most of its work in the winter,

Seasonal Performance Factor (SPF)

The COP is the efficiency when operating at certain temperatures.  It’s a reading for any one moment, and this will vary over the seasons.  The SPF is a measure of the total annual heat delivered from a system compared to the total energy input to run the system.   If electric supplementary back-up heaters are included, then the SPF should include this.  It should also includes any fans and pumps on the system.

The actual SPF of a system (heat-meter output reading divided by the electric input meter) will be greatly affected by the whole system and the way that it is operated.  If you want the highest SPF, it may be more important to focus on the design and mode of operation rather than to get too hung up on the COP rating of the unit.

SCOP is more commonly used now and is generally linked to a product. It is an attempt to give a likely average performance of a heat pump allowing for the variations of the heating season.   Be mindful that the final performance of a system is affected by many other things apart from a heat pump’s SCOP rating.

There is a COP estimator here for the technically minded