Geologic Thermal Energy Storage of Solar Heat to Provide a Source of Dispatchable Renewable Power and Seasonal Energy Storage Capacity

Dan Wendt, Hai Huang, Guangdong Zhu, Prashant Sharan, Josh McTigue, Kevin Kitz, Sid Green, John McLennan

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

9 Scopus Citations


This paper concludes that there is a cost-effective strategy for seasonal storage of heat that will provide firm, but dispatchable, electrical generating capacity in times when other renewable energy is not available to meet demand. Deployment of the technology appears to require no new technology, but instead combines solar, geothermal, and conventional oil and gas drilling technologies in a novel way. The study basis is the use of sedimentary geologic formations as a medium for thermal energy storage (TES), specifically for heat collected in concentrating solar collectors. The study identifies methodologies that could be used to transport this heat into and out of the subsurface in order to produce dispatchable electrical power, and reports on initial optimization results. The GeoTES system (heat input, storage, heat recovery, and heat to electric conversion) described in this analysis has the potential to provide a unique pathway for increasing the grid penetration of renewable energy in large blocks of power and across many states and regions. Further, the system can be used both to meet the nation's flexible energy needs while also improving grid stability and reliability. The present study evaluated the use of a large number of dedicated wells to store and recover the heat, essentially creating a synthetic geothermal reservoir. The use of sedimentary geology allow the wells to be drilled at low cost. Dedicated hot and cold wells are used, arranged in a five-spot well pattern with each hot or cold well surrounded at an appropriate distance by the opposite type of well. In large numbers this becomes alternating rows of hot and cold wells. Each hot and cold well is operated using a push-pull strategy. This configuration provides the ability to immediately recover stored hot fluid from a GeoTES reservoir, or to store the heat over many months for recovery at low loss when needed. This is a practical approach for managing the system's fluid inventory, and reducing parasitic load. The production and injection power requirements are reduced because the rows of wells operating in "push" mode provide help to the wells operating in "pull" mode, and vice-versa. Initial charging of a GeoTES system increases the heat recovery temperature. Increasing the duration of the charging period decreases the magnitude of the temperature fluctuations that occur following prolonged system operation. Because of direct contact of the heated water with the reservoir formation, the production of both hot water and steam from the TES, and the temperature ranges of the recovered fluid (190 - 230°C or 375 - 445°F), conventional geothermal power cycles were used to convert the stored heat to electricity. A power cycle configuration for the GeoTES system was selected following a screening study of a number of flash, and flash/binary hybrid options. This analysis concluded that, of the configurations evaluated, a dual-stage flash steam cycle provides the lowest capital costs per unit net power generation with an acceptable hot brine inlet fluid flow rate. The evaluation included the power plant cost estimate, the cost and number of wells and the associated parasitic loads. Annual power generation performance was simulated to evaluate capacity factor and LCOE. The LCOE calculated for the inherently high capacity GeoTES system was $0.13/kWhe. This value was calculated for the case where the solar thermal collector was sized in such a way that the solar collectors permitted an annual power plant capacity factor of up to 97%. The power cycle was able to provide power to the grid every night of the year, and flexible base-load power during the winter, if needed. This LCOE value compares favorably with reported values for solar photovoltaic plus battery energy storage (PV+BES) systems in the open literature, i.e. $0.148/kWhe for a PV+BES system with 4 hours of electrochemical battery energy storage capacity (McTigue et al, 2018a; McTigue et al, 2018b). Addition of battery energy storage with more hours of storage would further increase PV+BES system LCOE and increase the separation between GeoTES and PV+BES. A GeoTES system would therefore provide superior economics for high capacity and long duration solar energy storage.

Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2019
EventGeothermal Resources Council 2019 Annual Meeting - Geothermal: Green Energy for the Long Run, GRC 2019 - Palm Springs, United States
Duration: 15 Sep 201918 Sep 2019


ConferenceGeothermal Resources Council 2019 Annual Meeting - Geothermal: Green Energy for the Long Run, GRC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityPalm Springs

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Geothermal Resources Council. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CP-5700-74254


  • Concentrated solar power
  • Dispatchable power
  • Earth battery
  • Five-spot well configuration
  • Flash steam cycle
  • Geologic thermal energy storage
  • Organic rankine cycle
  • Power cycle analysis
  • Push-pull well operation
  • Reservoir thermal energy storage
  • Sedimentary basins
  • Solar power
  • Solar thermal power
  • Subsurface thermal energy storage
  • TES


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