Spotlight on... our green heating research experts

Heat Pump Email

On any given day, tucked away at our top-secret research centre, an incredible team of green-heating maestros are pushing the furthest boundaries of low carbon tech.

As I found out, their work is so complex and cutting edge, you’ll be hard pressed to get them to tell you exactly what they’re up to, but you can be sure it’s going to change the face of energy.

For the time being, why not meet some of the geniuses behind it all (and maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of what they’re working on).

Peter Konowalczyk heat pump boffin

Our chief green heating sage is Peter Konowalczyk.

He's a fascinating guy, and you can read more about him in our earlier piece. Here's just a taste:

I am a very curious person. I always have been. When I was 14, I faked my ID to sneak into a factory and see how it all worked. In Poland, you could work for 3 weeks during the summer when you were 16. I was 14, but this was Communist time, and children did not have proper ID, so I faked mine. My parents said ‘are you sure this is ok?’ And of course I just said ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’, and so off I went.

We're currently very curious about how to make heating greener. Right now, our world relies on stealing energy and natural resources that we can’t give back. If you want to continue to be a part of the natural world, you have to act like nature. With our green heating tech, you don’t have to burn anything, you don’t have to steal anything - we’re mimicking nature.

Peter Konowalczyk (Head of the green heating R&D team)

Meet Ben: Our Swiss-Army Engineer

So tell me a little bit about yourself - what do you do and how did you get here?

A picture of our engineer Ben

My name’s Ben, and I’m a mechanical design engineer working on Octopus Energy's green heating research team. I was always very interested in how things worked - eventually I went off to study an engineering degree, and then a masters degree in aeronautic and aerospace engineering. So here, I do a lot of work on the more theoretical side of things, but then I have a good bit of experience with the practical side of things as well, being a plasterer's son.

Can you tell us a little bit about how the green heating research team works?

So I’ve been involved in setting up some of the systems to make sure that we’re coordinated and run smoothly, right down to the software that means we don’t overwrite each other’s work and can track all the given changes to certain component designs, for example. It's very useful because we are so fast paced here that it would be very easy to just overwrite something.

Still, overall I’d say we’re very ‘T-shaped’. One person will apply themselves to a problem - we each have our specialisms, and there are people who are master and commander of certain topics, you know, whether it's computational fluid dynamics or additive manufacturing or finite element analysis. But at the same time, everyone knows a bit of everything, so you’re always supported by people on either side. If you ever have a question that you’re stuck on, there are incredibly talented people to bounce ideas off of. Everything crosses over. We do have lots of things that we’re working on individually, but so much of it is interlocked.

Is it an exciting environment to work in?

Honestly the hardest part is not staying on site all the time - I have to remember to maintain the work life balance - because it's very easy to fall into doing what you love all the time. We're right on the forefront of this industry. Previously I’d been working at a prominent engine building company, on aerospace stuff, and it was rewarding, but I wanted to apply my engineering skills to something more fulfilling. At uni, I’d done my bachelor’s project designing easily produced medical devices for keyhole surgery in low income countries, I kind of felt that drive like - oh, I've got my engineering and I've got something that I'm helping people with.

I thought back and began to realise what I wanted, and after watching an episode of David Attenborough’s Life on Our Planet, a little spark went off. I thought: this is what I’ve been missing; this is what I want to do with my job - I want to use my engineering to impact the climate crisis. I came across the opportunity to be a part of the green heating R&D team and thought, okay, I can impact climate change and make the most of renewable energy, while helping the most vulnerable people who can't necessarily afford energy or heating. It ticks all the boxes. Now I’m just looking forward to the day when we can show people some more of the things we’re working on, because they really will be game changing.

Meet Natasha: Our Dedicated Design Engineer

Hi Natasha! Could you tell us a little bit about who you are and how you fit into the team?

An image of Natasha at her desk

So I'm a design engineer by training - I focussed on mathematics and electronics, but also on product design, graphics, and marketing too. I specialised in energy systems actually - in electronic embedded systems. At the end of my studies, I chose to design a communal self-sustaining holistic energy system, combining solar energy, hydro, and a battery storage system for energy in developing countries. I did the electronics for it, I did the mechanical design, I did all the solar panel calculations.

But then I wanted to try new things. I started out working in the automotive industry, in vehicle suspension. We had a factory in-house so I worked on reverse engineering, designing, testing, manufacturing as well - before moving onto construction and doing architectural metalwork, structural calculations, simulation. From there, I went back to automotives, and worked on hydrogen powered engines, so I’ve gained a lot of experience with the technical material science stuff - strength testing, life testing - fatigue testing and things like that.

Do you feel like you get to draw on all that prior expertise in your current role?

an image of Natasha in the lab

Yes, the design engineering stuff has been useful thinking about the end user, and the material science expertise is also really important. I find that as being an engineer goes, it crosses over a lot. As long as you have the basic knowledge, you can learn pretty much anything and apply it to different industries. Green heating research has kind of been my first real exposure into the plumbing side of things, which has its own technicalities and challenges, especially when we’re working on things that haven’t really been done before.

How does the work differ from your previous experiences?

I was used to working on my own - you do a project, start to finish, largely by yourself, but this is the first time I’ve had that support system. And then you’ve got the fact that everyone here comes from really quite different backgrounds. You can ask anybody for help, they'll guide you through it, give you their knowledge and you give them your knowledge. It's really quite nice, that sort of back and forth, and the more specialist minds we’ve brought to the team, the more you’re able to look at things from different perspectives and different angles. They might come up with something that I didn't think of or vice versa.

And then, you know, after sitting here designing and problem solving in a digital, virtual space - using programs - you come together and it's really cool when you see the products you have created together - that are a part of all of you, and you see them being tested, you see them being built. It's always really interesting and rewarding to see.

Meet Irina: Our Control Design Extraordinaire

So could you tell me a bit about yourself and some of the cool stuff you’re up to?

a picture of Irina as a kid next to piece of giant machinery

My name is Irina and I’m a control design engineer, which means that I generally work on the control systems for our green heating technologies, but right now I’m actually working on developing a tool that will help us better test our units. We’re already collecting data from a couple of devices in customers’ homes, plumbed in by our very own Octopus Energy Services engineers, so we can look at usage patterns, but also use that data to work out how to better test our green heating tech. So I do work a lot on the software side, but I also pitch in with the more hands-on stuff - I remember being up until 1am soldering one particular day to get a very special prototype made.

What are you excited for?

An image of irina in a hard had

I'm interested and intrigued about the whole journey of our green heating products, because many of them are at different stages and once they go out there to the public, we’ll learn more about them - about the performance of certain components, for example, and how to optimise that. And with those products I have to anticipate that; to get ready to bridge that - to work out how to collect and present and use that information.

I suppose I’m just excited to get a version of our latest product that works really, really well - to the point where we’ve got proof, and just to keep moving forwards and picking up skills along the way. I think there's gonna be a lot more within the field of green heating that we'll be able to do, there's so much I want to be doing - I just don't have eight hands!

Meet Paul: Our Engineering Veteran

So tell us a little bit about yourself and where you fit in?

a picture of paul in the lab

I'm Paul, I’ve been a mechanical design engineer for 35 years. I've worked on everything from Military GPS technology to surgical devices that are at the forefront of cancer surgery. At the moment, I'm primarily working on the layout of our green heating products; working on concepts that are pretty much an array of pipes and electronic components, and turning them into actual products that meet all the necessary regulations, are easy to manufacture and assemble, and that people will definitely want in their houses.

What drives you?

A few years ago I got really interested in products that save energy and help the planet. I was designing domestic ventilation systems that were designed to circulate air without compromising the internal temperature of a well insulated home. It’s something I became really passionate about. The projects we’re working on here will make heating greener, pushing the limits of efficiency and running off green electricity, but it’s also rewarding to make them greener in other ways. When we choose and design all of our components, everything is considered - how difficult it will be to scale and manufacture, but also its environmental impact and carbon footprint.

But more than that, working with this team is just brilliant. I’m surrounded by brilliant, clever people, and it's just inspirational that there's a lot of people here that are a lot younger than I am, and I just feed off that enthusiasm and drive. I’m always learning from everyone. Someone might say “actually what about that?” and it's better than the great idea I thought I had, and you think “I'm gonna use that, or, I'm gonna develop that great idea”. It happens daily with everyone, so it's really cool.

An image of paul at his desk

And then at the same time, I’m able to contribute my experience and strengths as an accomplished design engineer. A lot of times in my career I've been very lucky to work at the forefront of different industries - I’ve worked on the forefront of the satellite industry, on the forefront of nuclear medicine - and so I know how great that feels. It's working at the pit head, that's the best bit.

So you feel that ‘forefront’ feeling here?

Absolutely. You know you're not stagnating - you never know what will happen tomorrow. You can tell you’re pushing boundaries and you’re pioneering, it's fantastic. It's just such a good feeling, it's the most interesting part of any job, you know. I absolutely love it, and would work all night if Peter didn’t remind me to go home.

So you’d say the future’s bright for green heating?

Oh yeah, for sure. Especially if this team's doing it - that's an absolute given.

Ready to find out more?

Meet the smart product engineers transforming green heating Read how this crack team of engineers are transforming the way society uses and understands energy.
Spotlight on... Jason, expert Heat Pump manufacturer Get an insight into green heating from the expert that built our heat pump from the ground up.
Spotlight on... Peter, head heat pump boffin All about heat pumps. Get the 101 on all things green heating from the head of our green heating R&D team.

Published on 16th June 2023 by:

image of Jackson Howarth

Jackson Howarth

Senior Writer

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!