Thermal energy storage
Thermal energy storage (TES) is achieved with greatly differing technologies that collectively accommodate a wide range of needs. It allows excess thermal energy to be collected for later use, hours, days or many months later, at individual building, multiuser building, district, town or even regional scale depending on the specific technology. As examples: energy demand can be balanced between day time and night time; summer heat from solar collectors can be stored interseasonally for use in winter; and cold obtained from winter air can be provided for summer air conditioning. Storage mediums include: water or ice-slush tanks ranging from small to massive, masses of native earth or bedrock accessed with heat exchangers in clusters of small-diameter boreholes (sometimes quite deep); deep aquifers contained between impermeable strata; shallow, lined pits filled with gravel and water and top-insulated; and eutectic, phase-change materials.
Other sources of thermal energy for storage include heat or cold produced with heat pumps from off-peak, lower cost electric power, a practice called peak shaving; heat from combined heat and power (CHP) power plants; heat produced by renewable electrical energy that exceeds grid demand and waste heat from industrial processes.
Solar energy storage
Most practical active solar heating systems provide storage for from a few hours to a day's worth of energy collected. There are a growing number of facilities that use seasonal thermal energy storage (STES), enabling solar energy to be stored in summer (primarily) for space heating use during winter. The Drake Landing Solar Community in Alberta, Canada has now achieved a year-round 97% solar heating fraction, a world record and possible only by incorporating STES.
Molten salt is a means of storing heat at a high temperature. This is a current commercial technology used in conjunction with concentrated solar power for later use in electricity generation, to allow solar power to provide electricity on a continuous basis, as base load energy. These molten salts (Potassium nitrate, Calcium nitrate, Sodium nitrate, Lithium nitrate, etc.) have the property to absorb and store the heat energy that is released to the water, to transfer energy when needed. To improve the salt properties it must be mixed in a eutectic mixture.
High peak loads drive the capital expenditures of the electricity generation industry. The industry meets these peak loads with low-efficiency peaking power plants, usually gas turbines, which have lower capital costs and, since the recent drop in natural gas prices have low fuel costs as well. A kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed at night can be produced at much lower marginal cost. Utilities have begun to pass these lower costs to consumers, in the form of Time of Use (TOU) rates, or Real Time Pricing (RTP) Rates.
Heat storage in tanks or rock caverns
Large stores are widely used in Scandinavia to store heat for several days, to decouple heat and power production and to help meet peak demands. Interseasonal storage in caverns has been investigated and appear to be economical.
Heat storage in hot rocks, concrete, pebbles etc
Water has one of the highest thermal capacities Heat capacity - 4.2 J/(cm³·K) whereas concrete has about one third of that. On the other hand concrete can be heated to much higher temperatures – 1200 °C by e.g. electrical heating and therefore has a much higher overall volumetric capacity. Thus in the example below, an insulated cube of about 2.8 m would appear to provide sufficient storage for a single house to meet 50% of heating demand. This could in principle be used to store surplus wind or pv heat due to the ability of electrical heating to reach high temperatures. At the neighborhood level, the Wiggenhausen-Süd solar development at Friedrichshafen has received international attention. This features a 12,000 m³ (420,000 cu ft) reinforced concrete thermal store linked to 4,300 m² (46,000 sq ft) of solar collectors, which will supply the 570 houses with around 50% of their heating and hot water.
Electric thermal storage heaters
These are commonplace in European homes and consist of high-density ceramic bricks heated to a high temperature with electricity, and well insulated to release heat over a number of hours.
Air conditioning can be provided more efficiently by using cheaper electricity at night to freeze water into ice, then using the cool of the ice in the afternoon to reduce the electricity needed to handle air conditioning demands. Thermal energy storage using ice makes use of the large heat of fusion of water. One metric ton of water, one cubic meter, can store 334 million joules (MJ) or 317,000 BTUs (93kWh or 26.4 ton-hours). In fact, ice was originally transported from mountains to cities for use as a coolant, and the original definition of a "ton" of cooling capacity (heat flow) was the heat to melt one ton of ice every 24 hours. This is the heat flow one would expect in a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) house in Boston in the summer. This definition has since been replaced by less archaic units: one ton HVAC capacity = 12,000 BTU/hour (~3.5 kW). Either way, an agreeably small storage facility can hold enough ice to cool a large building for a day or a week, whether that ice is produced by anhydrous ammonia chillers or hauled in by horse-drawn carts.
As such there are developing and developed applications where ice is produced during off peak periods and used for cooling at later time.
Cryogenic energy storage
This uses liquification of air or nitrogen as an energy store.
A pilot cryogenic energy system that uses liquid air as the energy store, and low-grade waste heat to drive the thermal re-expansion of the air, has been operating at a power station in Slough, UK since 2010.
Molten salt technology
Molten salt can be employed as a thermal energy storage method to retain thermal energy collected by a solar tower or solar trough so that it can be used to generate electricity in bad weather or at night. It was demonstrated in the Solar Two project from 1995-1999. The system is predicted to have an annual efficiency of 99%, a reference to the energy retained by storing heat before turning it into electricity, versus converting heat directly into electricity. The molten salt mixtures vary. The most extended mixture contains sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate and calcium nitrate. It is non-flammable and nontoxic, and has already been used in the chemical and metals industries as a heat-transport fluid, so experience with such systems exists in non-solar applications.
The salt melts at 131 °C (268 °F). It is kept liquid at 288 °C (550 °F) in an insulated "cold" storage tank. The liquid salt is pumped through panels in a solar collector where the focused sun heats it to 566 °C (1,051 °F). It is then sent to a hot storage tank. This is so well insulated that the thermal energy can be usefully stored for up to a week.
When electricity is needed, the hot salt is pumped to a conventional steam-generator to produce superheated steam for a turbine/generator as used in any conventional coal, oil or nuclear power plant. A 100-megawatt turbine would need a tank of about 9.1 metres (30 ft) tall and 24 metres (79 ft) in diameter to drive it for four hours by this design.
Several parabolic trough power plants in Spain and solar power tower developer SolarReserve use this thermal energy storage concept. The Solana Generating Station in the U.S. has 6 hours of storage by molten salt.
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