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Frozen Energy: New Systems Store Solar Power With Ice, Saving 30% on Cooling Costs

Posted by Matt Power, Editor-In-Chief

Apr 10, 2017 9:00:00 AM

Ice Bear units, available for both commercial and residential applications, store excess energy by freezing water that is then used to cool during peak demand hours.ice bear battery.jpg

Too often, we tend to think of energy storage in very narrow terms, namely lead-acid or lithium-ion batteries. But several other sustainable technologies now exist, including salt water batteries and energy transfer systems, such as Ice Bear hybrid units. This self-contained "ice battery" system uses energy to freeze water. The resulting ice block then provides up to 6 hours of low energy cooling (energy costs reduced up to 95%) during peak cooling hours.

Description: "The Ice Bear is a smart, distributed ice battery that seamlessly integrates with a building’s cooling system and answers the needs of commercial, industrial and residential customers. Ice Bear 30, our commercial ice battery, attaches to 4-20 tons commercial AC units while Ice Bear 20, our home battery, integrates with ductwork or ductless mini-split systems inside new or existing homes."

The company markets the ice batteries to grid-tied buidling owners with or without solar panels. The system's benefits, they say, also apply in non-solar applications, because the battery reduces peak demand from A/C systems. It's important to note, however, that not every utility changes pricing with consumer demand. So buyers should check their local utility policies before assuming their energy costs will drop as suggested by Ice Bear's literature (this is for their Model 30 commercial unit):

  • Reduces air conditioning bills by up to 30%
  • No or low cost system with rebates and utility incentives
  • Extends life of HVAC system by up to 5 years
  • Reduces building carbon footprint by 10% or more
  • Delivers superior cooling comfort • Stores excess solar generation
  • Supports local installers
  • Helps prevent blackouts by reducing stress on the grid

Southern Solar Bonus

For solar owners, particularly off-grid owners in hot climates such as Florida, there's the additional benefit to ice systems, particularly where net metering is not available. They can store unused power during the day, and cool their homes all evening. In fact, it might be worthwhile for Florida homeowners to consider a dedicated off-grid PV-powered cooling system that combines a small battery bank with an Ice Bear system to provide net zero cooling. Let head-in-the-sand Governor Rick Scott and the other anti-solar chickens cluck all they want. Smart homeowners can create their own self-sufficient on-site power plant and stay cool.

Insurance Against Demand Fees?

Another backwards utility policy that ice storage could help mitigate is something called  "Demand Charges." This problemmatic scheme for electricity billing has the utility monitoring a home via smart meters, then essentially penalizing consumers for any high-demand spike in their usage. Solar advocates note that this method of billing negates the advantages of solar PV, because it allows utilities to create unfair fees based solely on one-time events.

Midwest Energy News notes that "Unlike ComEd’s Peak Time Savings program or other programs that reward people for reducing energy use during regional peak demand times like hot summer afternoons, the demand charge for a given individual would kick in regardless of when their energy use spikes. In other words, a customer’s bill could be based on a usage spike at night even though there is plenty of electricity available and little congestion on the grid at that time."

Because cooling is the largest source of energy consumption in most southern homes, an ice storage system could flatten out the home's tendency to "spike," and drive costs up. While we're strongly opposed to demand charges on principle, the big-utility-centric politics of the day continues to pursue them, and this is one way to mitigate their clout.

ADDENDUM: Here's another company, CALMAC, that sells ice refrigeration units.

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