WITH the chilly cold weather showing no sign of abating and heating bills as high as ever, an engineering company in Castleblaney, Co Monaghan has designed a pioneering low-cost heating system that is 20 times cheaper than gas, oil or electricity.
Its origins are fairly everyday: while pumping up a bicycle tyre one day, Gerry Duffy observed that the pump got very hot when too much air was pumped in. Curious about the phenomenon, it led him to develop an amazing heating system using compressed air; the by-product being vast quantities of heat – produced in the most energy efficient manner possible;.
The revolutionary system works on the principal that the outside air – irrespective of how cold it is – contains some degree of heat in the form of solar energy from the sun which is trapped in the moisture.
This heat is extracted and added to an inert gas which is compressed; this in turn creates a higher temperature. The concentrated heat is then passed on to the building in the normal manner for heating purposes.
"We can retrofit the system on to the existing infrastructure such as the radiators and pipes. We simply discard the boiler and fuel tank and replace it with our system. The good thing is there is little maintenance because the system is fully automatic and requires no attention."
"Being an island nation we have very high humidity (moisture), so the reserves of untapped energy is inexhaustible – the well will never run dry," explains Gerry Duffy, MD of Eurotech Heating.
Although an elegantly simple idea, it took the company almost five years from 2005 to 2010 to perfect and refine the technology.
The Elm Pentecostal Church in Monaghan Town was one of Gerry Duffy's first customers to install the electrical-powered compression heating system. The enormous 18,000 square foot church used to spend over €16,000 a year heating the building to keep parishioners warm when services were being conducted.
The building now enjoys non-stop heating 24 hours a day for less than €5 a day – or 20 cents per hour.
In recognition of the revolutionary heating system, in November Gerry Duffy's company won its second Brecan Mooney Award, which is the Geothermal Energy equivalent of an Oscar, for Borris Lodge Nursing Home in Borris, Co Carlow.
They installed a system to replace burning oil which saved the proprietor, Jimmy O'Keefe, over €17,000 a year in running costs.
Another recent project, St Clerans House in Craughwell, Co Galway, was at one stage home to world-famous film director John Huston.
The listed 18th Century mansion described by its former owner, John Huston, as one of Ireland's most beautiful houses, had draughty old sliding sash pane glass windows' and no insulation and cost an absolute fortune to heat:
"We used renewable energy to heat the existing radiators and provide all of the heat and hot water required to transform this 18th Century house into one of Ireland most comfortable homes using modern technology."
Gerry Duffy is passionate about energy and feels that we are wasting vast amounts of money when we could be harnessing the abundant never-ending supply of free energy trapped in the air surrounding us.
"The sad reality on spending large sums of money on fossil fuel is the loss of this money to the economy, money which is draining out of the country never to return."
To outline his point, the yearly heating bill for Ireland's 3,900 primary and second- level schools is in the region of €80m. When the yearly heating bills of thousands of churches and hospitals and the 1.7 million households are added together, the sums run into telephone numbers:
"There is also the stress placed on households and community groups in trying to raise funds for heating. I see energy as a natural resource to which everybody has access, capturing this energy is easy and affording the equipment simply requires planning," added Gerry Duffy.
For an average sized house, a Eurotech heating system costs in the region of €7,000 with payback time within three and a half years.
Eurotech Heating which currently employs 20 people has secured just €2m in fresh orders from the UK, and is expecting to grow enormously in the coming years.