Energy Storage: holy grail of the renewables industry
Electricity storage has been described as the holy grail of the renewables industry. It is very difficult and expensive to store electricity, so every effort is made to provide electricity at the time it is needed. PV cells only generate electricity by day, and so cannot be used to meet lighting demands at night. Turbines generate electricity when the wind blows, but this does not often match times of peak demand. The problem is huge and rewards for solving it will be very large.
Thermal Energy Storage
There is an equivalent problem with heat storage. There is plenty of surplus heat on summer days, but the peak demand for heating comes on winter nights. For this reason Seasonal Thermal Energy Storage has also been described as the holy grail of the renewables industry.
Thermal Energy Storage is an integral part of ground source energy. Without the benefit of thermal energy storage provided by the thermal inertia of the ground, a ground source heat pump would have no performance advantage over an air source heat pump. An air source heat pump extracts heat from ambient air: as the air temperature falls an air source heat pump becomes less efficient. So on the coldest days, and nights, when space heating is most needed an air source heat pump is at its least efficient.
In cold conditions a ground source heat pump scores well as it can heat exchange with higher temperatures from the ground than are available from the air. In this way a ground source heat pump exploits the thermal energy storage capacity of the ground.
Enhancing the Thermal Energy Storage capacity of the ground
It is possible to exploit the thermal energy storage capacity of the ground by charging the ground with heat in the summer to enable it to yield heat more easily in winter. The temperture of the ground can be increased in summer by circulating spare heat from solar thermal collectors through the ground. It can also be charged with the heat extracted from a building in summer as a by-product of renewable cooling. Renewable cooling is more efficient than using roof mounted chillers for air conditioning - it also improves the efficiency of renewable heating the following winter. It saves on the capital cost as well, for one system can be used to provide heating in winter as well as cooling in summer.