Welcome to the Ground Arrays module.
As we have seen in the Heat Pump Basics module, the ground arrays are the part of a heat pump system that harvest low-grade heat from the ground (or from water).
In this section we will examine the different types of ground array, and consider the pros and cons of each type so that you can select the right kind for your project.
We'll go over sizing arrays in order to get the best performance and to comply with MCS guidelines.
We will look at how the arrays are installed in the ground, and illustrate a few important points to remember.
We've seen that a heat pump uses pipe buried in the ground, filled with heat transfer fluid, to absorb energy from the surrounding earth.
The amount of pipework that's needed will depend on the thermal properties of the ground that they sit in.
Straight pipe is just that! In this case, the plastic pipe is usually 32mm or 40mm in diameter. It is available on reels, in various lengths depending on your supplier.
The pipe is buried just over a metre deep, in long trenches 1m wide. If the soil is stony, the trenches are lined with sand to prevent stones from damaging the pipe and causing leaks. A 1 metre gap must be left between trenches (centre to centre). MIS3005 actually stipulates 0.75m, but that's for 25mm pipe, so stick to 1m.
If you pack too much pipe into a small space, you will extract too much heat from that area of ground. It's possible to freeze the ground, because the heat transference in soil just doesn't happen fast enough to make up for the amount of heat being taken out.
On a small scale this can damage grass laid over the top of the trenches. At its worst, perma-frosted ground will buckle and crack, and when there is no more heat to be taken from the ground, the heat pump will stop working. It can even damage the heat pump beyond repair.
This is why the seperation distances are defined by the MCS guidelines.
The heat in the soil isn't "geothermal". It's not that deep! The energy we are trying to use is warmth from the sun and from rainwater.
Anyway, straight pipe is laid in a meandering pattern up and down. This means it's easy to avoid obstacles like trees. Remember though that the ground-side pump in the heat pump has a limited amount of head, so you will probably have to install straight pipe in loops of no more than 300m each. You will use a manifold to link the loops together.
Slinkies are simply straight pipe coiled up!
Kensa sell slinkies that are made with 32mm pipe, cut into 3 different sizes. We make a 30m, 40, and 50m slinky. A slinky that is 30 metres long actually contains 200m of pipe, coiled up. A 40m slinky is 250m of pipe, and a 50m slinky is 300m.
Slinkies are installed into trenches similar to straight pipe - at the same depth (1.2m). But because the slinkies are physically wider, the trenches now have to be 1.2m wide, and at 5m spacings (centre to centre). This means that metre for metre, you need the same amount of space for slinkies as you do for straight pipe. MIS3005 stipulates 3 metre spacings - Kensa have had thousands of slinky installations though, and to guard against over extraction, we stick to 5m. We've never once had an issue with frozen ground because of this extra caution.
Why bother? Well, slinkies can make life easier.
Because you have a bigger space between trenches, you have space to dump the spoil from the trench; you can just leave it alongside. When you are digging for straight pipe and only leaving a metre gap, you won't have anywhere to put that spoil - you have to dump it elsewhere and then move it again to backfill. If you are doing your own groundworks, this isn't generally an issue, but if you are paying groundworkers to do it for you, then time is money!
Over the few years that ground source heat pumps have started to gain popularity in the UK, slinkies seem to have attracted an unfair amount of criticism. Historically this was because often they were installed without enough spacing. MIS3005 actually specifies 3 metres; it's Kensa that stipulate 5 metre centres. In the thousands of slinky jobs we've sold, we haven't had any issues with over-extraction.
Like any ground array, when installed correctly, they work.