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Introduction to Storing Thermal Energy

December 7th, 2010

thermal-energy-storage-plant.jpgWith all the talk these days about renewable energy sources, there is surprisingly little understanding of how these sources actually work and specifically, how the energy created is stored for later use. Thermal energy is typically used to heat and cool buildings. Commonly used types of storage include the use of water, rock or salt with the material used depending mostly upon that which is most plentiful in a given locale.

Storing Thermal Energy with Water

Water is a preferred method of thermal energy storage for several reasons. First of all, it is completely safe and natural. Secondly, it is easy to obtain and is cost effective, an important factor in alternative energy sources. Finally, significant amounts of energy can be stored in relatively small amounts of water, making it a space efficient design on top of its other benefits. Water is most often used for thermal energy storage for use in cooling buildings.

Storing Thermal Energy with Rock

Rocks and bricks are extremely efficient at storing heat, making them optimum materials for thermal heat storage systems. You can see this concept at work on a hot summer day, when garden rocks and sidewalks reach burning hot temperatures. This is because they are absorbing and storing the heat of the sun’s rays. Checked at night, these same surfaces are still giving off a considerable amount of heat, proving firsthand their ability to produce heat for hours after the original source has disappeared. Though this is a very simplistic example, it is an accurate basic portrayal of how thermal energy storage using rocks can be successful.

Storing Thermal Energy with Salt

Molten salt, also known as stone salt, can be used in the same manner as described above to store heat and save it for later use. In fact, molten salt used in conjunction with an appropriate storage tank system can produce energy that can be stored for up to a week. This technology is typically used to store heat that has been collected by a solar tower.

Thermal energy provides great promise for the future in producing and storing energy through the use of natural substances, making it a clean energy source from the beginning to the end phases. Though thermal energy is largely used for heating and cooling purposes presently, continued advances in the area of thermal heat are sure to render this concept increasingly useful in various ways through the years. Thermal energy is still in its infancy, with future advancements likely making this an even more viable alternative source of energy for the masses.


This article on storing thermal energy was supplied by Kristin Urbauer from Constant Content.


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