How Ice Can be Used for Power!
When you hear “energy storage” you probably think about batteries, but there are so many ways to store energy that don’t involve Lithium Ion or Lead. There are great reasons batteries get all the press: electric cars can zip around town, your laptop is no longer tethered to your desk, and Tesla is changing the way Americans think about energy. But dig back to your elementary science books and you’ll remember that energy comes in many forms: chemical, mechanical, and thermal, to name a few. It follows then, that energy can be stored in as many different forms. Like thermal energy.
Ice Ice Baby
Companies like Ice Energy are putting thermal energy on ice. Here’s how it works: A system called the Ice Bear uses electricity at night, when it is cheapest. During the heat of the following day, the ice is used to cool large HVAC systems that work overtime to keep office buildings, data centers, or multifamily housing developments cool. Not only does the Ice Bear make smarter use of energy, it means AC units don’t have to work so hard, extending their lifecycle.
So how can this big ice machine make a big change? When energy usage usually ramps up on very hot days, extra power plants called “peaking” plants must be used to make all that extra electricity to energize our lives. But if products like the Ice Bear take off, this could mean expensive and inefficient peaking plants may never need to be turned on, or even built!
A huge portion of our energy usage is devoted to changing electricity or gas to thermal energy. Your hot water heater stores thermal energy in the form of many gallons of hot water. Your HVAC and refrigerator use thermal energy to make you comfortable and your food fresh. When you fire up your oven, there’s that thermal energy again, cooking your dinner and making it hot in the kitchen. Changing electricity to thermal energy represents over 60% of your bill. New solutions to old problems like this one are proving to be cost-effective ways to change the way energy generation is managed.
For a decade or more, batteries have been considered the “magic bullet” to making renewable energy as dependable as fossil fuel sources. We are excited to see ideas like this one changing the way we think about how our energy is generated, stored, and used.