Over the holiday, my husband and I made plans to head north in early February: to visit Burlington, Vermont, for his annual Penguin Plunge into Lake Champlain on behalf of Special Olympics and to sleep "a glace" in an ice bed at Quebec's Hotel de Glace, which is constructed entirely out of ice.
As I sat here shivering over these plans this morning, gazing at a thermometer reading 17 degrees Fahrenheit, I decided to pull out my notes from a conversation I had a couple of months ago with the founder of Freeaire Refrigeration, Richard Travers. That's because Freeaire, based in Waitsfield, Vermont, is all about "polar power" as a source of natural cooling.
Freeaire's proposition is pretty familiar and pretty simple: the technology harnesses outside air to keep things cooler. Only instead of cooling a data center, Freeaire's technologies are adding more uumph to refrigeration systems. When you're talking about a place like winter-time Vermont, this makes a lot of sense. Little wonder that the company has managed to connect with restaurant chains in both the United States and Canada. One customer is Boston-based Harpoon Brewery, which uses the technology for warehouses in Boston and Windsor, Vermont. That move has helped save more than $16,000 annually in electricity costs.
"Using outside air is more applicable the farther north you go," Travers said. "The absolute amount that you can save increases as the system you are controlling gets larger. The smaller the space, the less you would save."
Freeaire's systems are generally used for coolers, not freezers; there are at least 140 days per year where outside air can help offset the need to use electricity, Travers estimates. "The outside air thing is a forehead slapper," he said.
Freeaire figures that the average installation will achieve a 50 percent increase in efficiency. Companies usually see a return on their investment in about five years, but that period could be compressed to as little as two years depending on the energy efficiency or rebate incentives that might be available in your state.