The impact of aquifer heterogeneity on the performance of aquifer thermal energy storage

W.T. Sommer, J.R. Valstar, P. van Gaans, J.T.C. Grotenhuis, H. Rijnaarts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


Heterogeneity in hydraulic properties of the subsurface is not accounted for in current design calculations of aquifer thermal energy storage (ATES). However, the subsurface is heterogeneous and thus affects the heat distribution around ATES wells. In this paper, the influence of heterogeneity on the performance of a doublet well system is quantified using stochastic heat transport modeling. The results show that on average, thermal recovery decreases with increasing heterogeneity, expressed as the lognormal standard deviation of the hydraulic conductivity field around the doublet. Furthermore, heterogeneity at the scale of a doublet ATES system introduces an uncertainty in the amount of expected thermal interference between the warm and cold storage. This results in an uncertainty in thermal recovery that also increases with heterogeneity and decreases with increasing distance between ATES wells. The uncertainty in thermal balance due to heterogeneity can reach values near 50 percent points in case of regional groundwater flow in excess of 200 m/yr. To account for heterogeneity whilst using homogeneous models, an attempt was made to express the effect of heterogeneity by an apparent macrodispersivity. As expected, apparent macrodispersivity increases with increasing heterogeneity. However, it also depends on well-to-well distance and regional groundwater velocity. Again, the uncertainty in thermal recovery is reflected in a range in the apparent macrodispersivity values. Considering the increasing density of ATES systems, we conclude that thermal interference limits the number of ATES systems that can be implemented in a specific area, and the uncertainty in the hydraulic conductivity field related to heterogeneity should be accounted for when optimizing well-to-well distances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8128-8138
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • heat-transport
  • solute transport
  • porous-media
  • hydraulic conductivity
  • geothermal systems
  • field
  • simulation
  • flow
  • macrodispersion
  • dispersion


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