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What Are Buffer Tanks And What Do They Do?

Buffer tanks are an easy way to make most renewable energy projects even more efficient. Whether you are using solar hot water, heat pumps or a wood-fired biomass boiler, an accompanying buffer tank is a simple solution to reducing your carbon footprint further and enhancing your climactic conditions, whether you are in a domestic or commercial environment.

By definition, a ‘buffer’ is a system or area that is used to resist change and moderate fluctuations. In our case, a buffer tank is a unit of varying size, filled with water heated by a renewable energy source and adapted to increase the efficiency of that renewable energy source. In other words, the stored water is maintained at a certain temperature, saves energy by eliminating the need to repeatedly heat water from cold and also provides instant hot water at source.

Buffer tanks are also sometimes known as accumulator tanks or thermal stores, which have slightly different applications. But a buffer tank can come in various different sizes, from a small tank to store water from solar heating for domestic use, to huge 7000 litre tanks for commercial heating and hot water requirements. Buffer tanks can also be attached to various heating and renewable energy sources, such as solar coils or immersion heaters, or oil or gas systems. Similarly, at the output side, buffer tanks can be connected directly to central heating systems and radiators.

The most popular use of buffer tanks is with biomass boilers, which are connected to the side of the tank, with radiators or other hot water output systems connected to the other side. The boiler will heat the water and the buffer tank keeps the water hot until it is needed, because it is lined with insulation which reduces heat loss and maintains a constant temperature. This therefore reduces energy bills and provides instant access to water of the required temperature, although it is advised that temperature regulators and monitoring equipment is used to control the temperatures.

Some commercial organisations also use buffer tanks for keeping water cold for chilled water applications, working on the same principle that energy is required to reduce the water to a certain temperature and then the insulated buffer tank maintains it at that temperature, using no energy.

The size of a buffer tank depends on the level of system performance required, which of course differs between domestic and commercial properties, but also takes into account the commercial environment, the size of a property and usage patterns. Typically, a buffer tank will be big enough to store one full days’ worth of heating and hot water requirements, but of course there are space constraints to consider.

Other advantages of buffer tanks is low-cost installation, the ability to combine multiple sources of heat both as an input or an output and the flexibility to heat the water at different times of day. With this last example, you could heat the water overnight using immersion heating elements, when cheaper electric tariffs are in operation. The water will then be stored at the required temperature ready for the next day.

At Robinsons we can advise on all elements of a renewable energy system, but particularly the use of buffer tanks, what size tank you might require, and which sources of energy are best suited to provide the heat output you need. We are committed to working with you to find the right solution that suits your business, while also assisting the Government in meeting its target to reduce carbon emissions by 2020 as part of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive. So contact us today and we can discuss buffer tanks, renewable energy and working with you to reduce your carbon footprint.

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