Ice-powered air-conditioner could cut costs

Ice Energy says energy-storage system cuts down on the power required for air conditioning by 30 percent. Photo: Ice-cold air

Can an ice-powered air conditioner take the edge off scorching summer electrical bills?

A young company called Ice Energy has developed an energy-storage system that uses a tank of water to cut down on the power required for air conditioning by 30 percent. Click to see the photo.

The company's Ice Bear units, roughly the size and shape of a squat refrigerator, are an adjunct to standard centralized air-conditioning units.

Ice-powered AC

Rather than run AC compressors during the hottest time of the day, the Ice Bear cools water during the night, turning it to ice. During the day, the ice cools the refrigerant as it passes through the tank, lowering the temperature inside.

This process of shifting the time that the AC unit works knocks electricity usage and costs down significantly, said Ice Energy CEO Frank Ramirez.

That's because the AC unit doesn't have to work as hard at night, making the overall system more energy-efficient, he said.

The company's first products, which have their roots in research conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy, are aimed at businesses, where an Ice Bear could be placed on the roof with other HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) systems. A residential system is also being tested.

Cutting down on energy demands during the hottest times of day is of great interest to utilities, Ramirez said.

Heavy loads on the electrical grid, as the U.S and Europe are seeing right now, cause utilities to ramp up power generation. If generation can't keep up with the demand, then power outages result.

"Today we are faced with exploding demand for power in China, and that has fundamentally changed consumption patterns for electricity globally," Ramirez said. "That means that technologies that originally were underwritten by the Department of Energy have an opportunity to be commercialized."

Ramirez said that the Ice Bear products have been certified by the California Energy Commission and that Ice Energy is in discussions with utilities over use of its products.

The company began to ship its first product earlier this year and expects to see sales ramp up quickly, from about $5 million this year to $50 million next year.

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