Context. Photospheric flows create a network of often mixed-polarity magnetic field in the quiet Sun, where small-scale eruptions and network flares are commonly seen.
Aims: The aim of this paper is (1) to describe the characteristics of the flows that lead to these energy releases, (2) to quantify the energy build up due to photospheric flows acting on the magnetic field, and (3) to assess its contribution to the energy of small-scale, short-lived X-ray flares in the quiet Sun.
Methods: We used photospheric and X-ray data from the SoHO and Hinode spacecraft combined with tracking algorithms to analyse the evolution of five network flares. The energy of the X-ray emitting thermal plasma is compared with an estimate of the energy built up due to converging and sheared flux.
Results: Quiet-Sun network flares occur above sites of converging opposite-polarity magnetic flux that are often found on the outskirts of network cell junctions, sometimes with observable vortex-like motion. In all studied flares the thermal energy was more than an order of magnitude higher than the magnetic free energy of the converging flux model. The energy in the sheared field was always higher than in the converging flux but still lower than the thermal energy.
Conclusions: X-ray network flares occur at sites of magnetic energy dissipation. The energy is probably built up by supergranular flows causing systematic shearing of the magnetic field. This process appears more efficient near the junction of the network lanes. Since this work relies on 11 case studies, our results call for a follow-up statistical analysis to test our hypothesis throughout the quiet Sun.