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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/V041878/1
Title: Aquifer thermal energy storage for decarbonisation of heating and cooling: Overcoming technical, economic and societal barriers to UK deployment
Principal Investigator: Jackson, Professor MD
Other Investigators:
Korre, Professor A Damaschke, Dr M Staffell, Dr I
Boon, Dr DP Durucan, Professor S Taylor, Professor KG
Ma, Dr L Kountouris, Dr I Hough, Mr E
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Chartered Inst of Building Serv Eng Dept for Bus, Energy & Ind Strat (BEIS) Environment Agency (Grouped)
Geological Survey of Northern Ireland Ground Source Heat Pump Association HayesTec
IFTech Mott Macdonald National Grid
Department: Earth Science and Engineering
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 November 2021 Ends: 31 October 2024 Value (£): 1,524,750
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Earth Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
22 Feb 2021 Decarbonising Heat 2 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The UK uses around 50 GW of energy to heat and cool buildings, only 6% of which comes from renewable sources. Reducing building sector emissions is an essential part of the UK's decarbonisation strategy for achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, heat is challenging to decarbonise due to its extreme seasonality. Daily heat demand ranges from around 15 to 150 GW, so new technologies with inter-seasonal storage are essential.

Heating buildings in winter and cooling them in summer produces waste heat or cool that is currently lost. We propose a technology to instead store this and re-use when required, by warming or cooling groundwater that is pumped underground and stored in an aquifer (porous rock mass). In summer, warm water is stored to provide heating in winter; in winter, cool water is stored to provide cooling in summer.

This technology is termed aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES) and has been widely applied in other countries, notably the Netherlands where there are over 2500 ATES installations. These have shown that the technology is highly efficient, recycling up to 90% of the energy that would otherwise be wasted. ATES can be deployed with renewable electricity sources, storing excess output to help ease the challenges of integrating >40 GW of intermittent offshore wind energy.

The UK has only a handful of projects, mainly located in London and supplying less than 0.025% of UK demand. Yet it has high potential for ATES: there are seasonal variations in temperature and widespread aquifers where heat and cool can be stored. Moreover, there is increasing demand for cooling as well as heating, as summers become hotter and longer.

Experience in other countries has shown that widespread deployment of ATES can be prevented by technical, economic and societal barriers, such as uncertainty in the response of aquifers to energy storage, a lack of knowledge of the economic value and decarbonisation potential of the technology, and lack of public understanding or acceptance.

This project brings together geoscientists, geoengineers, economists and social scientists to address key barriers to deployment of ATES in the UK, proposing solutions that inform government policy, the regulatory framework, planning authorities, and energy and infrastructure companies. The project integrates four key strands, combining technical geoscience and geoengineering research with economics and social science research. This integrated approach is essential to address deployment barriers.

Our overall goal is to deliver solutions and recommendations that facilitate an increase the capacity of ATES in the UK to several GW (a thousand-fold increase on current capacity) with projects widely deployed across the UK. Our research will determine the UK capacity for ATES, linking supply and demand and creating maps for policy makers and planners. We will understand how a key UK aquifer responds to ATES by conducting field trials and laboratory experiments. We will identify strategies to deploy and operate ATES systems that maximize storage capacity and efficiency, while accounting for uncertainties in aquifer behaviour that are inevitable when engineering natural systems.

Our economic research will quantify the economic value of ATES, accounting for the lifecycle costs of installation and operation, and the added value that ATES can deliver to the wider energy system storing excess renewable energy from wind and solar in times of low demand. We will quantify the decarbonisation potential of ATES in a lifecycle context, so it can be objectively compared against other low carbon heating and cooling options. Our social science research will ensure responsible deployment of ATES, promoting the co-design of ATES projects in line with societal priorities and values. It will use international examples to identify best practice, and identify and quantify broader societal benefits, such as the potential to develop a demand for skilled jobs.

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk