Return of the Ice Age

Posted on January 27, 2010. Filed under: News | Tags: , , , , |

The Southern California Public Power Authority and Ice Energy (a Colorado based company) are in talks over a strategy to deploy “ice air conditioners” on a broad scale in the Southern California region.  The unique caveat is that the burden of paying for a new air conditioner would fall onto the utility, rather than the building owner.

These ice air conditioners serve as a distributed energy storage system that enables a powerful change in how and when energy is consumed for air conditioning.  Ice air conditioners work by effectively shifting the power required to run conventional air conditioners from the middle of the afternoon (when power costs the most and demand is highest) to nighttime, when utilities often have to dump the power they generate because of slack demand.

The ice air conditioners make ice at night.  As it melts throughout the day, the chill is transferred to heat exchangers and distributed through a building.  The six hours of chill the ice can provide can ideally get most buildings though the bulk of the day, thus reducing peak energy required by conventional AC systems.  AC energy demand – typically 40-50% of a building’s electricity use during peak hours – can be reduced by as much as 95%.

Collectively, the ice air conditioners slated for deployment in Southern California could lead to 53 megawatts worth of energy storage.  Put another way, the air conditioner/energy storage units could provide 64 gigawatt hours of daytime power each year.  Fifty megawatts of power can be shaved from daytime demand with about 5,500 of the company’s Ice Bear units, executives have said.

Still, ice air conditioners represent only a fraction of the market.  Ice Energy has been pushing to accelerate sales by changing incentives and ownership structures. The company used to sell the systems directly to building owners.  Unfortunately, payback can take years, if at all.  Utilities, however, consistently benefit from them because of the reduction in peak power demand they can create.  As a result, Ice Energy shifted strategies and began to sell its units to utilities as devices for peak shaving.  In this light, the ice air conditioners function like demand response systems, eliminating a chunk of daytime power needs, without the networking.

Three U.S. representatives last year proposed a bill that would provide business owners and consumers a 30 percent tax credit for installing ice systems as well, which would help spur demand in places where utility-based programs don’t exist.  It could also help defray costs for the utility.

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