Posted on Wednesday 10 April 2013 by Ulster Business
Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster joins Glen Dimplex Group Chairman and CEO Sean O'Driscoll and GD Renewables Managing Director Neil Stewart at the launch of the company's Quantum system.
Named Quantum, the new heater represents the biggest investment the company has made in a single piece of technology – some £8.5m over two years – but those behind the project believe it will be a "game-changing" product.
Production of the new product will initially create 37 jobs at Dimplex's Portadown subsidiary, with potential for 200 manufacturing jobs as the market develops.
Quantum is described as a more energy efficient and controllable heating system that utilises off-peak heating but has the ability to store energy, which is of use to utility companies.
Through its innovative design and controls, the company estimates that the new heater could save end users – from individual homeowners to Housing Associations – as much as 25% on their energy bills a year and reduce energy usage by 20%. Dimplex believes that the product will help alleviate fuel poverty and also assist utility companies in meeting stretching new targets for renewable energy.
Alan McDonald, senior technical services manager, explained: "We started off to develop an innovative new generation of storage heater which would be significantly better in terms of energy efficiency and comfort control.
"But we were talking to utility companies and we quickly realised this was a product that would help address the key challenges facing them, particularly in light of the increasing amount of renewable generation. Renewable generation is intermittent so you need some kind of storage if you're going to make best use of it. We realised that our heater would be ideal for that at a distributed level."
Dimplex has managed to de-couple the energy supply to the heater and the point at which that heat comes into the room. That gives the energy company flexibility as to when they charge the heater against the constraints on their network without disturbing the end user's choice of when they use the heat.
"Our own testing has suggested you are looking at up to 20% energy saving and up to 25% running cost savings for systems, which is significant," he adds.
The R&D for Quantum was driven by Seagoe Technologies in Portadown, and this is also where the product will be manufactured for export.
Originally founded in Newry in 1973, Glen Dimplex's Northern Ireland operations employ 500 people in various divisions in Newry and Portadown. Now the world's largest manufacturer of electrical heating, it has over 10,000 employees across four continents and annual revenues in excess of £2bn.
Dimplex spent around £6.5m on the R&D and marketing of the heating system and about £2m in direct production. Invest NI has backed the new product with £157,000 support for the R&D and £195,000 to support capital investment and the new jobs.
The company expects to produce a minimum of 10,000 units of the Quantum heating system before the end of 2013, which could have huge benefits for the local economy. It estimates that if 50% of the two million electrically heated homes in the UK converted to the new heaters this would create 3,000 jobs a year for ten years across manufacturing, distribution and installation.
Speaking at the launch, Glen Dimplex chairman and chief executive Sean O'Driscoll said Quantum was the "most exciting technology the company has ever developed" and that its production in Portadown confirmed the company's commitment to Northern Ireland.
He also used the event, held the day after the death of Lady Thatcher, to remind the current governments of the UK and Ireland of the economic importance of manufacturing.
"Manufacturing is important because it has the highest multiplier effect of any sector," said Mr O'Driscoll. "For every one job created in manufacturing there are 2.7 indirect jobs created in the supply chain."
Enteprise Minister Arlene Foster said that the Executive wants to support manufacturers who are prepared to invest in R&D, such as Glen Dimplex.
"Through its subsidiaries, Glen Electric and Seagoe Technologies, there is a strong emphasis on R&D which has helped the Glen Dimplex Group to remain a global market leader," she said.
"The creation of 37 advanced manufacturing jobs is welcome news for the sector and will help to deliver an additional £500,000 annually in salaries into the local economy.
"All manufacturing of the new product for global distribution will take place in Portadown which is an important development for the manufacturing sector and a clear demonstration of how investment in R&D can help companies to develop and maintain a competitive advantage."
Dimplex initially plans to go after the replacement market in the UK to build the reputation of the product and is already running demonstration installations with Scottish & Southern Energy (SSE) to show potential customers that replacing old heaters makes sense. It has test installations in place at properties owned by the Northern Ireland Housing Association, and also in Ireland, the Shetland Islands, North Eastern Canada, across Europe and Japan.
"We're aiming very much at our traditional market, which would be the social housing market and the off-grid market – houses that are not on the gas network. Initially we'll be going after the electric market but we hope to expand that into other fuels," said Alan McDonald.
"We're the only one doing this at the moment. Outside of the group we're not aware of anyone developing anything similar. We've got seven patents as we've developed the product, so there is a lot of innovation in it."
The group intention is that Quantum will eventually be a worldwide product.
"The products we make currently are sold across the world and all utilities are facing similar problems no matter where they are. Energy efficiency is a big issue and we can offer something that improves that situation. It has to be attractive anywhere in the world," said Alan.
"What's behind the name is that it is a quantum leap forward for this type of heating which really makes it competitive with other types of heating. We're bringing something new into the marketplace that benefits our customers and the general public and so as an organisation we're very excited."