Want to keep your building cool? Add ice to your air conditioner

Want to keep your building cool? Add ice to your air conditioner

Summary: Thermal storage company Ice Energy is helping more than 40 commercial buildings in Redding, Calif., reduce electricity costs and it is about to add more.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

When most people hear the word "energy storage" they think of big lithium-ion batteries like the ones being used to support various renewable energy experiments.

Ice Energy of Glendale, Calif., hopes to help change that perception with its thermal energy storage technology, which basically uses ice to help reduce the electricity load in buildings. 

During off-peak hours, the company's Ice Bear units store up ice. The cooling nature of the melting ice can be used during other parts of the day to help defray the costs of running commercial direct exchange air-conditioners.


I wrote about a similar concept about two years ago, when I interviewed CALMAC, a New Jersey ice rink maker that has sold its IceBank ice storage technology to plenty of high-profile companies, including the Bank of America.

The main difference between what the two companies are doing is that Ice Energy is focused on much smaller buildings such as retail stores, convenience stores or campus buildings. In addition, its units can be distributed across multiple buildings.

That latter distinction is one reason that the company is focused on selling its technology to utility companies, said Mike Hopkins, executive vice president of corporate development and legal for the company. The Ice Energy can help utilities forego the costs of having to add more generating capacity.

"Our projects are being purchased by utilities to deal with specific peak problems," Hopkins said.

To get an idea of how Ice Energy's technology might be used, consider its relationship with the Redding Electric Utility (REU) in Redding, Calif.

The utility company has created a thermal energy storage program that currently works across 40 buildings in the district to help offset electricity demands during peak period. The installation is supported by the utility, rather than by the individual building owners. The Redding city council voted in June to extend the program to more buildings, which could help reduce peak power demand by up to 6 megawatts over five years, Ice Energy said.

"After more than seven years of evaluation, installation and analysis, the Ice Bear product has proven to be a good fit for the Redding community and a cost-effective means of shifting on-peak air conditioning demand to off-peak hours," said Barry Tiptin, REU utility director.

Ice Energy figures the lifetime of its Ice Energy units at approximately 25 years. 

Topic: Emerging Tech

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Skeptic

    I don't see how this can possibly make thermodynamic sense. But I guess when your commercial properties are designed for aesthetics over efficiency, and your power grid can't satisfy peak demands I guess this can work in some perverted economic sense.
    • Common misconception

      It's not that the power grid doesn't have enough power - it's that they sell off too much of it in commodity trading. If they kept every little bit of power that they generate to local markets only, you would never have a brown-out. And "peak-demand" periods would never exist.
    • Simple...

      Night time ambient temperatures tend to be much cooler. So it's a lot easier to create cool, when the air is cool. So when it's 70 degrees at night, you create a block of ice.

      Now, when it's 90 degrees during the day. That ice is helping to cool the air flowing to the heatpump. The heatpump can more easily extract "cool" from the air that's had it's temperature dropped by the ice already.

      Difference of needing to bring the temp down from 80 vs 90 degrees. Sure the ice will eventually melt, but the thought is that it can help get through the peak of the day (morn-to afternoon), and thus reduce the cost of cooling.

      Makes thermodynamic sense to me.
    • Not about total energy consumption

      It is about managing the peaks. If you can use the energy when demand is lower, less total capacity is needed. Electric power capacity is a peak issue. Because storage is difficult, we cannot yet effectively generate based on average consumption. This is a method of storage to help move cooling closer to an average need model than peak need model, allowing it to be stored when other demands are lower.
  • Send a reporter to

    Qualcomm Building Q to see their ice storage unit. Works great, but if you run out of ice you'd better be sure you aren't in the middle of an ISO brown-out, because you have to shut down the computers in a hurry!
    Tony Burzio