The E-USE project has designed and created six pilot plants across Europe to demonstrate the feasibility of combined applications of aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES), a low carbon heating and cooling solution which uses the underground (and aquifers in particular) for seasonal storage of heat or cold. The project is now capitalizing on pilot performances to foster Europe-wide replication of sustainable energy from aquifers. 

The Problem

A proactive EU strategy on heating and cooling was formulated by the European Commission due of the fact that :

  • 50% of European energy consumption is due to heating and cooling for the residential and industrial sector
  • 73% of primary energy consumption in industry is due to heating and cooling
  • 75% of primary energy for heating and cooling derives from fossil fuels

The opportunity was therefore to build links between heating and cooling while exploiting their synergies. 

The challenge

With this in view, E-USE(aq) aims at decarbonizing the heating and cooling sector, responsible for 50% of primary energy consumption in Europe, by boosting the uptake of Aquifer Thermal Energy Systems.

While there are numerous benefits for using ATES systems in terms of cost and energy efficiency, their widespread application faces a number of barriers, which was part of the investigations during the initial stage of the project.

For instance, regulatory approaches, with uncertain authorization processes, or concerns for their impact on ground water quality. But also this technology is simply still not well known. Hence, the benefits of using ATES systems are not being fully explored.

The solution

Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) systems have the potential to provide a significant tool for climate change mitigation. Using aquifers as a source for thermal energy can provide heating and cooling for houses, offices and other buildings E-USE (aq). In comparison to the use of fossil fuels, as well as providing up to 60% CO₂ reductions, these systems are also more cost effective. By designing and monitoring smart ATES combinations in 5 European countries, via its pilot sites, E-USE(aq) aims at paving the way to a wider market for this promising low carbon technology.

The impact

The E-USE(aq) consortium has demonstrated the efficiency of innovative combinations for low carbon heating and cooling in Spain, Italy, Belgium, Danemark and the Netherlands using the subsurface as energy storage system. 

ATES systems installed in E-USE(aq) demonstration sites are contributing to a low carbon energy system across Europe: in Nules (Spain), the plant allowed saving 60% of yearly natural gas consumption, with a yearly economic saving of about 40%, that means a reduction of 90tons/year of CO2; in Bologna (Italy), the plant will allow yearly savings of 36 tons/year of CO2 emissions and yearly energy savings of 12 TOE; in Delft (the Netherlands), the optimization with integrated PVT panels lead to 25 tons of CO2 saving.

Moreover, ATES systems are now more cost effective thanks to the work of the E-USE(aq) consortium: in the Spanish pilot site in Nules the innovative system developed by ITECON, payback times are as low as 3 years, making ATES system an economically feasible renewable energy solution. Thanks to the optimization performed, it has been possible to reduce installation costs from for a single 100 kW system by -17.5%. Additionally, especially in combination with cooling, ATES systems generate savings up to a factor 4 compared to conventional systems as shown in the pilot in Ham.

EIT Climate-KIC’s role

Climate KIC has fully supported the project throughout the process of its growth from its early, initial stages in the ideator phase all the way up to the demonstration phase, and also contributed to the distribution of its results amongst the global KIC community of low carbon innovators.