Thermal energy storage allows polluting industries to clean up and reduce emissions
As the global energy system becomes increasingly electric – not just in power but transportation and heat, too – storing energy is going to play an ever more important role in ensuring that clean energy can be used when it is most needed.
To date, most of the focus has been on storing surplus power generated by solar and wind farms, using battery technology or pumped hydro-electric facilities. But there is also a huge potential in storing heat, or thermal, energy in a similar way. The market for heat storage is more than three times the size of the electricity storage market, at about $300 billion, more than 3 times the total market for utility scale electrical batteries, according to Aurora Research.
While electric battery storage is aimed at power producers, particularly renewable energy schemes that produce energy intermittently from wind and solar power, thermal energy storage is aimed at industrial facilities that produce heat as a by-product of their operations, including steel and aluminium mills, cement, brick and glass makers as well as traditional power plants. It can also store energy from solar thermal, or concentrate solar power, plants.
“Thermal batteries will have a crucial impact on decarbonizing industrial sectors such as chemicals, petrochemicals, food and beverages, textiles, metals and minerals, by allowing industries that are electrifying to cut emissions to store waste energy or cheap off-peak generation to be used later, cutting their power costs,” according to the Italian oil and gas producer Eni. “They also make electrification a more viable option for companies with a range of heat energy requirements, and they enable businesses to use energy more efficiently by recovering waste heat, which cuts their fossil fuel consumption.”