Spotlight on... Jason, expert Heat Pump manufacturer
Today we’re going to be speaking to Jason Cassells. Jason leads Octopus’ green heating manufactory. A one-time builder of all manner of heating systems, turned nutty professor testing his first home-made back-garden heat pump in the freezing winter – Jason has designed Octopus’ next-generation heat pump factory from the ground up and knows all there is to know about cheaper, greener heating.
Given that Octopus is already a trusted energy supplier – having been Which? recommended 6 years in a row and counting; we’ll leave it to Jason to demonstrate why you can trust Octopus with green heating as well.
Over 22 years, I've come to know the heating industry inside out. I’ve built all types of heating systems cradle to grave.Jason Cassells
Coming up to 10 years ago, I realised that heat pumps were the only way forward.
So what do you do at Octopus?
So I run Octopus’ heat pump manufacturing as the CEO of Renewable Energy Devices (RED), which Octopus acquired in 2022. I started this business – it’s hard to believe – on the 20th of March, 2014; so for almost ten years, we’ve been a company that manufactures heat pumps and wider green heating solutions, making and selling heat pumps in the marketplace.
It's all our own hardware, our own circuit boards, our own firmware and software, our own very unique RED design, if you've seen them - those nice, compact, round-shaped heat pumps.
How did you get involved with green heating in the first place?
You know, my background, believe it or not, was a degree in civil engineering, and then a PhD mechanics. But then I went off to work for a boiler manufacturer – so I'm atoning for my sins.
Still, over 22 years, I've come to know the heating industry inside out; I’ve built oil boilers, condensing gas, condensing biomass with pellets, unvented hot water, ground source heat pump and air source pumps. These were all from a blank sheet of paper, cradle to the grave – so designing the concept, manufacturing – and selling.
Finally, coming up to 10 years ago, I realised that heat pumps were the only way forward.
Why heat pumps over other green heating solutions?
Having spent years working with other heating technologies, I have full confidence in heat pumps – I like the principle, they’re elegant machines. Other green heating solutions like biomass boilers need lots of maintenance; you have to put pellets in one end and shovel them out the other end, and if you don't give them enough attention, they break down frequently and they're hard to put right.
Hydrogen boilers – the other alternative – still feel like a pipe-dream. The trials suggest they are far less efficient (3-4 times less than a heat pump), far more expensive, and far less safe – hydrogen being leakier and far more flammable, even, than natural gas.
I should add that hydrogen has its uses when it comes to other difficult-to-decarbonise sectors, like heavy transport and industry. To take one example, we’ve got the expertise to be able to generate our own green hydrogen at our factory and use it to weld pipes together, and it works brilliantly.
Still, heat pumps are the best when it comes to heating. They’re convenient – they suit people better. You know, it's just ‘push the button – things switch on’. And it’s not just that – because they work by using a little bit of electricity to harness more heat from the environment, they can produce 3-4 times as much energy as you put in, making them over 4 times more efficient than traditional gas, or hydrogen boilers.
Heat pumps are also safe, reliable, and easy to control. These days, our heat pumps are pretty clever, you can control them with an app, and will soon be able to link them up to Octopus’ systems to heat your home in the greenest possible way. And that leads me to another central point. Heat pumps are ultimately clean.
If you think of urban areas, there’s no heating pollution, no smog contribution, and the holy grail as I see it is that if the whole grid is green – if we’ve got 100% renewable energy powering a heat pump – then there’s a whisper of the carbon footprint of a gas boiler. I like the technology; I like the principle. That’s why I settled on making them all those years ago.
(Get further insight into all things green heating from our heat pump boffin Peter, here)
Having worked for both a smaller, dedicated green heating business and as a part of Octopus’ team – what are the benefits of combining an energy supply business with heat pump installation?
So before Octopus came along, unlike other ‘mass-manufacturers’, we traditionally made a slightly lower volume, higher end product.
We spent years fine tuning it to get the design right – to make them as smart and efficient and reliable as possible. We thought outside the box.
All the bells and whistles. We then made sure that we had the whole package – if you needed a water tank we made a water tank; if you wanted underfloor piping we could do that too – the whole heating system.
Then came a knock at the door, a year or two ago and Octopus said there was an opportunity: ‘You have the ideas and the expertise, we've got the resources and the connection to the rest of the energy world, would you like to do something together?’
Becoming a part of Octopus has allowed us to focus our attention. It’s given us the resources to refine the product, to make it ever smarter, to focus more on design and efficiency – and our latest model reflects that.
It's a high temperature heat pump, so that we’re capable of true retrofit. It can flow at about 80 degrees. We’re making it quiet and we've removed lots of barriers to ease installation. We've been working on a new indoor control logic, wireless thermostats – app control – data diagnostics, remote logging.
I'm looking at incorporating a weather station into the heat pumps. We’re set up to use big data to figure out how to further optimise this stuff. The more data you have – the more knowledge – the more informed decisions you can make. That, alongside the connectivity of our heat pumps, really differentiates our product from everyone else's.
Finally, the icing on the cake is that at Octopus we generate the energy, we retail it, we supply it, and we manufacture the heat pumps that are going to use it. We're going to install them, we're going to service them for you, and soon, you'll be able to connect your heat pump to our groundbreaking smart platform Kraken, which will optimise your device like it does for cars with our Intelligent Octopus tariff, so you should see real time performance gains and savings, and that's the whole solution.
We've always had a good product and good ideas but to me it was about making heat pumps accessible to all; getting that technology out there and making them affordable.
Beyond that, as a part of Octopus, we’ve obviously been able to scale up. It’s wild to think that we’re going to be able to make and sell tens, hundreds, thousands of these things down the line. It's big picture stuff. We've always had a good product and good ideas but to me it was about making heat pumps accessible to all; getting that technology out there and making them affordable.
At the minute heat pumps are getting a lot cheaper – starting to compete with gas boilers – but we can get the cost of these things down further, which we can and will do. I think that's where we'll do the greatest benefit and the greatest good for all.
On that note, how is manufacturing going?
I've been focusing on the manufacturing process for this last little while – how to better automate that and ultimately reduce the cost for customers. What we're currently doing now is filling out a state-of-the-art facility. So not only have we designed a new heat pump, I've designed a manufacturing process to make it. We're looking at a factory thousands of square feet and we're ramping up innovative production lines that will eventually be able to churn out a new heat pump in minutes.
So not only have we designed a new heat pump, I've designed a manufacturing process to make it.
We've ordered the conveyor belts and the robots, and we've fully designed the layout, so very soon we’ll have our first components. It's exciting to think we're soon making the first of the next-generation heat pumps then swiftly ramping up volumes. Alongside creating hundreds of green jobs on site here in Belfast, so we’re supporting the local supply chain within the UK as well.
The way I look at it is that this current factory is a prototype. If we get it right, then it becomes a jelly mould factory which we can then replicate at scale, at locations of choice til we're potentially producing hundreds of thousands of super efficient heat pumps every year and really leading the green heating transition. That's the aspiration.
Any good stories from the labs?
Well the most vivid ones for me were from the first few years of the R&D phase – I pretty much took my life savings and put them on RED, as I like to say.
Looking back on it, I started out as the nutty professor in his backyard. I installed my first prototype heat pump into my house – and it didn’t work quite right at first. I didn’t have a weather chamber, and so, in an attempt to perfect the defrost logic, I spent two weeks in the middle of winter outside writing code and uploading it to the heat pump – morning, noon, and night with my woolly hat on.
It took a bit of, you know, dedication (or pressure) from the family to make things happen, but by the summertime my first heat pump worked well and I was even able to use it to cool a celebratory beer.
I was going to ask you about what’s driving you, but you answered that pretty eloquently, so instead I want to know what you’re excited for?
I'm excited to get it done if that makes sense. It’s tempting to say that a great achievement will be switching the production line on, seeing the new heat pumps go out, but no, the greatest thing is excitement is driving down the road to the countryside and then being able to say ‘that’s one of ours at the back of that house’.
That’s the satisfaction: actually seeing these things out in the field, doing the job, to create something from nothing, literally from a piece of paper concept; to see that put into somebody's home heating their home, producing hot water, green and efficiently.
The greatest excitement is driving down the road to the countryside and then being able to say ‘that’s one of ours at the back of that house...’
To me, that's the satisfaction I get out of it, you know, making a difference. It's not about excitement in the classical sense but just that sense that, you know, I did that – we did that – we made that difference. That, to me, is the bit that excites me.
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