According to the U.S. Department of Energy, commercial buildings represent just under one-fifth of total U.S. energy consumption, with office space, retail space, and educational facilities representing about half of commercial sector energy consumption. Commercial building managers are always looking to improve their energy efficiency and sometimes the answer to this complex problem can be a simple one. Ice Energy has found a way to use ice to cool commercial buildings which also saves on energy costs and is environmentally friendly.
Founded in 2003, Colorado based Ice Energy has taken in funding of $92 million so far from 5 firms including Goldman Sachs, Energy Capital Partners, and Sail Capital Partners. The company has a number of strategic partners including Carrier Corporation (a $12.5 billion company that manufactures and distributes HVAC systems world wide), Trane (a business of Ingersoll Rand), and Data Aire (a leader in precision cooling equipment for telcom facilities and computer data centers).
How it Works
During off-peak hours, a self-contained charging system called the Ice Bear freezes 450 gallons of water in an insulated tank by pumping refrigerant through a configuration of copper coils within it which turns the water to ice. The ice is then stored until its cooling energy is needed. When peak hours begin (typically between noon and 6PM) the Ice Bear uses the ice rather than the AC unit’s compressor, to cool the hot refrigerant, slowing melting the ice as it travels through a series of copper coils. A highly efficient pump then pushes ice-cold refrigerant through a modified coil installed in the conventional air conditioning unit. This simple system provides cool air for the duration of peak hours saving the user money. Each Ice Bear shifts up to 72 kWh (95% of A/C energy) to off-peak, every day.
According to Ice Energy’s website, the daytime energy demand from air conditioning constitutes around 40-50% of a building’s electricity use during peak daytime hours, and can be reduced significantly. In a case study conducted with Staples in New Jersey, with the Ice Bear storage units installed, the daily load profile dropped from 150-160 kilowatts to 120-130 kilowatts, a reduction of nearly 25%. Another case study with an undisclosed “national retail chain” concluded that the Ice Bear systems delivered 15-20 % greater cooling efficiency than typical roof top AC units during peak hours while using a fraction of peak electricity.
Ice Bear programs are fully funded, installed, and maintained by participating utilities and are not sold to individual building owners. The utility pays for equipment, installation and maintenance over the 25-year design life of the system. The system integrates with existing AC units so installation is as stated by Staples “turn-key and problem-free”.
Since Ice Energy does not sell directly to customers, it will be up to the utilities to push the solution. On one hand, a utility company has little incentive to push a product that results in less peak energy being consumed and consequently less metering revenue. On the other hand, it helps provide load balancing for the utility company’s infrastructure and may make come along with tax incentives. It remains to be seen how much widespread adoption Ice Energy can achieve with this unique cooling system.