A groundbreaking study published in Applied Energy suggests that aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES), a cutting-edge technology that uses underground water for heating and cooling, could be the key to significantly reducing consumption of natural gas and electricity in the United States. The study, which is the first of its kind to examine the potential of ATES in the context of decarbonizing the U.S. energy systems, highlights how this innovative approach could also help prevent blackouts caused by high power demand during extreme weather events.
ATES harnesses the heat-absorbing properties of water and the natural geological features of the planet to create a sustainable and cost-effective solution for heating and cooling. Water is pumped up from existing underground reservoirs and heated at the surface using environmental heat or excess energy from renewable sources such as solar or wind. The heated water is then stored underground and can be used for heating buildings in the winter or for cooling in the summer, making it a versatile and reliable option for both residential and commercial applications.
ATES systems are gaining recognition internationally, particularly in the Netherlands, where they have been successfully deployed in areas with large seasonal temperature fluctuations. However, the potential of ATES is not limited to specific regions, as it can be implemented wherever there is access to renewable energy sources such as wind or solar. One of the key advantages of ATES is that it can utilize “free” thermal energy from seasonal temperature changes, making it a cost-effective option for heating and cooling.
The recent study used a computational model to estimate the potential energy savings and costs associated with ATES deployment in a neighborhood in Chicago. The results were promising, showing that incorporating ATES into the energy grid could reduce consumption of petroleum products by up to 40%. However, the initial costs of implementing ATES were estimated to be 15 to 20% higher than existing energy storage technologies. Despite this, the researchers noted that with the rapidly declining costs of renewable energy and energy storage technologies, ATES could become cost-competitive within just a few years of further development and refinement.
One of the standout features of ATES is its potential to become even more efficient as climate change leads to more frequent and extreme weather events. With hotter summers and harsher winters becoming the new normal, there is an increased availability of free thermal energy for storage, making ATES an even more attractive option for green heating and cooling solutions. This aspect of ATES is especially crucial in the face of climate change, as it provides a sustainable and resilient solution that can adapt to changing environmental conditions.
In addition to its environmental benefits, ATES also has the potential to alleviate the strain on power grids during periods of high demand, such as heatwaves or extreme cold snaps, which can lead to blackouts. By storing excess energy during periods of low demand and making it available during peak times, ATES can help stabilize the grid and prevent power outages, ensuring a reliable and consistent energy supply for communities.
The study authors emphasize the need for further research and development of ATES, including real-world prototype systems, to fully realize its potential as a sustainable solution for heating and cooling. They highlight the importance of continued innovation and investment in this technology to drive down costs, optimize efficiency, and make ATES accessible to a wider range of communities and regions across the United States.
As the world continues to grapple with the urgent need to transition to sustainable and renewable energy sources, ATES presents a promising solution for green heating and cooling. With its ability to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, prevent blackouts, and adapt to changing climate conditions, ATES has the potential to play a significant role in decarbonizing the energy sector and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Jonas Muthoni is an entrepreneur and renewable energy expert. He is the founder of MicroGridMedia.com, a website dedicated to bringing the latest news and information about solar energy and other renewable energy sources to the public. Jonas is passionate about promoting sustainable energy solutions and educating the public about the benefits of renewable energy. He is a regular speaker at industry events and conferences and is committed to driving the transition to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.