What if we could store the nice heat of the summer for the winter? We can!

With a constantly changing society, one of the major changes we have to assess in the upcoming years is the aim for a sustainable world.
Energy is one of the major topics to be discussed in this aspect as energy production is one of the most influential factors of pollution and climate change. Countries around the world are trying to come up with new solutions and agreeing on critical decisions for the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.
Right now universities and companies around Europe are working to reach the sustainability goals set by the European Union for the year 2020 which are set to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions by 20% in relation to the year 1990 and have a 20% of total energy consumption coming from renewable energy with an increased efficiency.

In this blog I want to write about one innovative solution called UTES which stands for Underground Thermal Energy Storage. This idea comes from the clever physics law of conservation of energy which means that we there is energy, that energy is not lost, but it just passes among systems, it’s never destroyed. Heat is energy we can use, and UTES takes advantage of this and aims to store energy through the seasons capturing heat in the summer and using this stored energy in the winter where the demand for heat (energy) rises. This would give a greener solution to heating houses and buildings instead of using fossil fuels and gas to heat up households and other buildings. Similarly, the cold in winters can be stored in wells for cooling purposes in the summer.

 

 

The concept of this system is usually using water through pipes and being stored in underground wells, as water is a very efficient energy carrier. This water is passing through pipes that pass on the surface of the ground and gets heated or cooled depending on the season and the outside temperature.
The system consists of 2 wells, which are a cold water well and a warm water well and are constantly exchanging water so that the same water is always used. During summer, the flow direction is reversed such that (cold) groundwater is extracted from the cold storage well and injected in the heat storage well passing through the walls of the building that is benefiting from this system.

 

Video explaining UTES

 

This system can be implemented on a large scale where big ammounts of energy are stored for the entire cities but also on a small scale where every house has its own heating system instead of the traditional ones. Municipalities could work with start-up entrepreneurs to sell this system to private households and businesses interested and slowly growing the market for it bringing a win-win for everyone.

This could be a solution for energy consumption for household’s temperature control for many countries that have intense summers and intense winters during the year which are also usually countries that have the largest urban areas. Leiden for example has a good potential to use this kind of technologies as other cities in the Netherlands are already applying them like Utrecht with a very positive impact on the reduction of energy consumption.

Sander Kester
Minor Sustainable Development

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5 thoughts on “What if we could store the nice heat of the summer for the winter? We can!”

  1. This sounds like a really inventive and useful solution! The main question rises is that why isn’t it implemented on a larger scale yet? Because it seems like a system with a long durability that not only helps reducing the level of emissions, but also is economically attractive since it probable will earn back its investment leaving houses with a nearly free heating AND cooling system. I would like to know more about the thresholds that needs to be overcome in order to up scale the implementation of this technique.

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  2. This sounds like an amazing concept. However I was wondering how exactly is the heat absorbed and stored. How does this work? Is the water just warmed and stored underground or does it also have some technology to it? Also is this solution only possible for future houses? Or is this also a possible solution that can be installed in pre-existing houses? I feel like this is a great idea that could really be beneficial in creating a sustainable future!

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  3. It is interesting to read about this technology! I think the storage of energy is one of the big questions we have to deal with when transferring to a more energy system. This system also made me think of the so called ‘wamte rotonde’ (heat roundabout) that is created in South Holland. It creates a network between locations with residual heat, and locations that can use this heat. This way heat from the Rotterdam harbor for example is used to heat houses in Leiden. The heat is thus also put into a system. I am not sure if they also make use of UTES, but I could imagine that these approaches could reinforce one another. Then the gas and oil that is still used a little in the UTES system, can be replaced or supplemented by residual heat and other sustainable energy resources.

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  4. It sounds as a great invention! Love that this can be applied on larger scale. It does raises the question of costs. It looks like it is very expensive to build, even if you apply it only for new buildingprojects. Also, I was wondering about the effiency, Isn’t there a lot of loss of energy when it is transported or stored for a long period?

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  5. While I believe this concept is a very interesting and innovate idea, I do not know to which extent it is truly feasible. Especially in Leiden, or any other fully urbanized city. The entire concept is based on creating a system of water pipes under the housing infrastructure, however, can this actually be achieved sustainably? The energy use to create the system of pipes, the bulldozing, and construction etc – will likely result in quite a big amount of energy use. Will the energy saved after the system is installed, level out the costs of creating it?
    Furthermore, as we all know, the Netherlands is a swampy country. The ground is not sturdy, and there is way too much water. This, of course, makes for an easy access to water to be used in the wells, however, many places in the Netherlands use wooden stilts under the housing to keep the housing ‘afloat’. Many houses and buildings are already sinking or starting to lean in a specific direction. The creation of a new Metro tunnel in Amsterdam even lead to entire neighborhoods starting to sink. So, my question is: how will the Netherlands be able to implement this idea? I fear the ground underneath buildings and houses is not sturdy enough to handle implementing piping systems underneath. You do state that Utrecht “use this kind of technology”, with a “very positive impact”, but do not describe how this was implemented in Utrecht. Furthermore, have they used the exact method you explained in your blog, or an alternative version? I am curious to see how Utrecht figured out how to implement this innovation, for the idea of storing energy during different seasons very promising and intriguing! If this truly works, we will finally have a reason to enjoy the harsh cold of winter, by knowing that the cold is being stored to cool us in summer!

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