Ice Energy’s plan to end the duck curve

Ice Energy hopes to counter the Californian duck curve by replacing traditional air conditioning with ice energy storage. Pic: Ice Energy.

Ice Energy hopes to counter the Californian duck curve by replacing traditional air conditioning with ice energy storage. Pic: Ice Energy.

By Jason Deign

Thermal energy storage developer Ice Energy is gearing up to increase sales of a product that has the potential to end California’s famous ‘duck curve’.

The Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) has already announced plans to buy up to 100 of Ice Energy’s Ice Bear 20 residential cooling systems, which completed testing about a month ago.

The 20 ton-hour systems use energy when there is excess production, for example at night, to create ice that is then used for cooling during peak electricity consumption periods, such as evenings.

“At 9.6kW per Ice Bear 20, the order will potentially add nearly 1MW of new energy storage and peak demand reduction capacity to the SCPPA network, saving energy, improving efficiency and reducing emissions,” said Ice Energy.

The deal marks Ice Energy’s debut in the residential energy storage market, a move the company unveiled in Energy Storage Report last year, and follows growing utility interest in using Ice Bears for demand response. 

Located on commercial and industrial buildings

“Although our systems are designed to be located on commercial and industrial buildings and now, more recently, at homes, most of our sales have been to utilities,” said Mike Hopkins, CEO.

“We’re selling them as an aggregated resource.”

The company has already shipped hundreds of the thermal storage units, amounting to several megawatts of storage capacity, to commercial and industrial sites, he said.

Ice Energy will also be announcing a second residential storage deal, comprising around 250 units, to another utility “in a couple of months,” Hopkins said.

“They tell us how many they want, which is related to how many megawatts of energy storage they want, and where they want them on the grid,” he explained.

Benefits to building owners and utilities

He said Ice Energy not only delivers the products but also takes care of finding locations, negotiating with owners, obtaining licence agreements, installing the units and maintaining them “for the benefit of the building owner and the utility.”

As revealed in Energy Storage Report last year, Ice Bears can help utilities cut air conditioning electricity requirements by as much as 95%.

“You’re getting a lower bill but it’s not the building owner that is making the decision about when the unit charges or discharges,” Hopkins commented. “That’s the reason utilities pay for it. They have that right of dispatch.”

Building managers or homeowners, meanwhile, benefit from electricity bill savings that occur when their power consumption for air conditioning is shifted from peak to off-peak tariffs.

Since Ice Bear cooling is essentially indistinguishable from air conditioning, building owners can still set the temperature they want, whenever they want. The only difference is they pay less monthly. 

Upfront cost of purchase and installation

And with the utility footing the upfront cost of purchase and installation, there is little to block the spread of the concept.

Nevertheless, Ice Energy is also adopting a retail model in California, where end users are rewarded for investing in energy storage through the Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP).

The SGIP provides rebates covering roughly half the cost of an energy storage system.

Combined with time-of-use savings, this means owners can recoup the cost of an Ice Bear within about three years, Hopkins said, “which is attractive to a lot of commercial and industrial customers.”

The company is already selling small volumes of Ice Bears directly to commercial and industrial customers in California, with clients including a library and a movie theatre. 

Not looking at a direct sales model

“We’ll be ramping up that business,” Hopkins confirmed, although Ice Energy is not looking at a direct sales model.

Instead it is investigating partnerships with companies such as NextEra Energy Resources, NRG Energy and OpTerra Energy Services.

Ice Energy is also planning to launch residential sales, with a focus on a modified version of the Ice Bear 20.

This new ‘Ice Cub’ version, designed for households, will be smaller than its predecessor, weighing in at around 2.5 tons, and is sized for houses under around 170m2, which would typically have a 2.5-ton or 3-ton air conditioning unit.

Critically, the new version is also aimed at homeowners who have or want rooftop solar panels. “It doesn’t look anything like our other systems,” said Hopkins. “It was designed for the consumer.

“It is a much cooler, high-tech-looking system. In terms of functionality, we made it so it could make ice much faster.” 

Freezing a tank of ice in four hours

Whereas Ice Energy’s standard units need up to nine hours to freeze a full tank of ice, usually requiring them to charge at night, the Ice Cub can fill up in four.

“It can then provide cooling to the home, without using electricity, for four hours. We designed it that way to deal with the duck curve. If you have solar, during a four-hour period you will be over-generating.”

Until now, excess power from residential solar was in many parts of the US simply fed into the grid under state net-metering schemes.

As renewable energy penetration grows and puts more stress on the grid, though, many states are rolling back net-metering programmes.

In Hawaii, for example, residential customers are being discouraged from feeding energy into the grid during times of peak solar production. “This is the perfect solution for them,” said Hopkins.

“It holds the ice until you come back from work. And when you would have turned on your air conditioner and spiked the load, you’ll have your Ice Cub just start melting ice. There’s no electrical load for cooling your home.”

  • Next week: could ice batteries make air conditioning obsolete?

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