Even if the packed bed thermal energy storage concept has been introduced as a promising technology in the concentrated solar power field in the last years, its full deployment in commercial plants presents a clear improvement potential. In order to overcome the under-development of this storage technology, this work attempts to show the great capabilities of packed bed heat storage units after a successful design and operational parametric optimization procedure. The obtained results show that a correct design of this type of facilities together with a successful operation method, allow to increase significantly the storage capacity reaching an overall efficiency higher than 80 %. The design guideline obtained as a result of this work could open new objectives and applications for the packed bed storage technology as it represents a cost-effective and highly performing storage alternative. © 2017 Author(s).