Coefficient of Performance of Refrigerator and Heat Pump


We all know from experience that heat is transferred in the direction of decreasing temperature, that is, from high-temperature mediums to low temperature ones. This heat transfer process occurs in nature without requiring any devices. The reverse process, however, cannot occur by itself. The transfer of heat from a low-temperature medium to a high-temperature one requires special devices called refrigerators.

Refrigerators, like heat engines, are cyclic devices. The working fluid used in the refrigeration cycle is called a refrigerant. The most frequently used refrigeration cycle is the vapor-compression refrigeration cycle, which involves four main components: a compressor, a condenser, an expansion valve, and an evaporator

The refrigerant enters the compressor as a vapor and is compressed to the condenser pressure. It leaves the compressor at a relatively high temperature and cools down and condenses as it flows through the coils of the condenser by rejecting heat to the surrounding medium. It then enters a capillary tube where its pressure and temperature drop drastically due to the throttling effect. The low-temperature refrigerant then enters the evaporator, where it evaporates by absorbing heat from the refrigerated space. The cycle is completed as the refrigerant leaves the evaporator and reenters the compressor.

In a household refrigerator, the freezer compartment where heat is absorbed by the refrigerant serves as the evaporator, and the coils usually behind the refrigerator where heat is dissipated to the kitchen air serve as the condenser.

Fig. 1

A refrigerator is shown schematically in Fig.1. Here QL is the magnitude of the heat removed from the refrigerated space at temperature TL, QH is the magnitude of the heat rejected to the warm environment at temperature TH, and Wnet,in is the net work input to the refrigerator. As discussed before, QL and QH represent magnitudes and thus are positive quantities.

Coefficient of Performance

The efficiency of a refrigerator is expressed in terms of the coefficient of performance (COP), denoted by COPR. The objective of a refrigerator is to remove heat (QL) from the refrigerated space. To accomplish this objective, it requires a work input of Wnet,in. Then the COP of a refrigerator can be expressed as

COPR = Desired output/Required input = QL/Wnet,in   ……1

The conservation of energy principle for a cyclic device requires that

Wnet,in = QH – QL         (kJ )

Then the COP relation becomes

COPR = QL/(QH – QL) = 1/[(QH/QL)-]

Notice that the value of COPR can be greater than unity. That is, the amount of heat removed from the refrigerated space can be greater than the amount of work input. This is in contrast to the thermal efficiency, which can never be greater than 1. In fact, one reason for expressing the efficiency of a refrigerator by another term—the coefficient of performance—is the desire to avoid the oddity of having efficiencies greater than unity.

Heat Pump

Another device that transfers heat from a low-temperature medium to a high-temperature one is the heat pump. Refrigerators and heat pumps operate on the same cycle but differ in their objectives. The objective of a refrigerator is to maintain the refrigerated space at a low temperature by removing heat from it. Discharging this heat to a higher temperature medium is merely a necessary part of the operation, not the purpose. The objective of a heat pump, however, is to maintain a heated space at a high temperature. This is accomplished by absorbing heat from a low-temperature source, such as well water or cold outside air in winter, and supplying this heat to the high-temperature medium such as a house

An ordinary refrigerator that is placed in the window of a house with its door open to the cold outside air in winter will function as a heat pump since it will try to cool the outside by absorbing heat from it and rejecting this heat into the house through the coils behind it

The measure of performance of a heat pump is also expressed in terms of the coefficient of performance COPHP, defined as

COPHP = Desired output/Required input = QH/Wnet,in     …..2

which can also be expressed as


A comparison of Eqs. 1 and 2 reveals that


for fixed values of QL and QH. This relation implies that the coefficient of performance of a heat pump is always greater than unity since COPR is a positive quantity. That is, a heat pump will function, at worst, as a resistance heater, supplying as much energy to the house as it consumes. In reality, however, part of QH is lost to the outside air through piping and other devices, and COPHP may drop below unity when the outside air temperature is too low. When this happens, the system usually switches to a resistance heating mode. Most heat pumps in operation today have a seasonally averaged COP of 2 to 3.

Most existing heat pumps use the cold outside air as the heat source in winter, and they are referred to as air-source heat pumps. The COP of such heat pumps is about 3.0 at design conditions. Air-source heat pumps are not appropriate for cold climates since their efficiency drops considerably when temperatures are below the freezing point. In such cases, geothermal (also called ground-source) heat pumps that use the ground as the heat source can be used. Geothermal heat pumps require the burial of pipes in the ground 1 to 2 m deep. Such heat pumps are more expensive to install, but they are also more efficient (up to 45 percent more efficient than air-source heat pumps). The COP of ground-source heat pumps is about 4.0.

Air conditioners are basically refrigerators whose refrigerated space is a room or a building instead of the food compartment. A window air conditioning unit cools a room by absorbing heat from the room air and discharging it to the outside. The same air-conditioning unit can be used as a heat pump in winter by installing it backwards. In this mode, the unit absorbs heat from the cold outside and delivers it to the room. Air-conditioning systems that are equipped with proper controls and a reversing valve operate as air conditioners in summer and as heat pumps in winter.

The performance of refrigerators and air conditioners in the United States is often expressed in terms of the energy efficiency rating (EER), which is the amount of heat removed from the cooled space in Btu’s for 1 Wh (watthour) of electricity consumed. Considering that 1 kWh = 3412 Btu and thus 1 Wh = 3.412 Btu, a unit that removes 1 kWh of heat from the cooled space for each kWh of electricity it consumes (COP = 1) will have an EER of 3.412. Therefore, the relation between EER and COP is

EER = 3.412 COPR

Most air conditioners have an EER between 8 and 12 (a COP of 2.3 to 3.5). A high-efficiency heat pump manufactured by the Trane Company using a reciprocating variable-speed compressor is reported to have a COP of 3.3 in the heating mode and an EER of 16.9 (COP of 5.0) in the air conditioning mode. Variable-speed compressors and fans allow the unit to operate at maximum efficiency for varying heating/cooling needs and weather conditions as determined by a microprocessor. In the air-conditioning mode, for example, they operate at higher speeds on hot days and at lower speeds on cooler days, enhancing both efficiency and comfort.

The EER or COP of a refrigerator decreases with decreasing refrigeration temperature. Therefore, it is not economical to refrigerate to a lower temperature than needed. The COPs of refrigerators are in the range of 2.6–3.0 for cutting and preparation rooms; 2.3–2.6 for meat, deli, dairy, and produce; 1.2–1.5 for frozen foods; and 1.0–1.2 for ice cream units. Note that the COP of freezers is about half of the COP of meat refrigerators, and thus it costs twice as much to cool the meat products with refrigerated air that is cold enough to cool frozen foods. It is good energy conservation practice to use separate refrigeration systems to meet different refrigeration needs.

Enjoyed reading Coefficient of Performance, have time and  read also Throttling Valves and Throttling Process

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