Ice Bears chilling out the Boothbay region

Wed, 12/11/2013 - 9:00am

    We've seen the solar panels and the energy efficient light bulbs, but now things are going to get a bit cooler on the coast of Maine.

    By the end of next month, 25 thermal energy storage units called “Ice Bears” will be installed in participating businesses to be used as an alternative energy device aimed at eliminating the region's electricity demand.

    An Ice Bear is a large thermal storage tank that connects to an existing rooftop air conditioner.

    A California based company called Ice Energy is behind the product. Ice Energy partnered with Thermal Energy Storage of Maine to win a second round bid in the GridSolar's Pilot Project, a three year initiative to demonstrate the usefulness of alternative technologies around the Boothbay region.

    The pilot project, approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission, designated the Boothbay region as a test site to try to demonstrate that Central Maine Power does not need to to undergo an $18 million dollar transmission upgrade down the Route 27 corridor to the peninusula.

    Instead of using electricity to blow cool air inside a building, the Ice Bear freezes water into a block of ice, then releases its cool air back into a building's cooling system.

    Additionally, the Ice Bear only operates at night, when it’s cooler and cheaper to produce electricity. The unit produces and stores the ice, then releases the cold air the following day.

    “From a grid perspective, you've just eliminated the load,” said Mike Hopkins, Ice Energy's executive vice president of corporate development and legal. “The benefit to the grid is that alternative energy devices are reducing, or in our case, eliminating the demand of electricity to the region.”

    According to Hopkins, Ice Bears can run up to six hours per day, every day, during peak hours of the summer when businesses demand a lot of energy to keep their buildings cool.

    When conventional air conditioners require a lot of energy to cool down the air during the hottest time of the day, an Ice Bear will kick in, ultimately reducing the total electricity consumed and saving the owner less than the cost to run the air conditioner alone.

    The Ice Bear program is fully funded by Central Maine Power and the units will not cost property owners a penny to be installed or maintained, Hopkins said.

    Ice Bears will be installed at the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, Harbor's Choice Laundromat, municipal buildings and other businesses in the region. The contract is good for at least 3 to 7 years, depending on the success of the GridSolar Pilot Project. When the contract expires, a business owner can purchase the Ice Bear for $1.

    Ice Energy was founded in 2003 and has been involved in more than 40 pilot projects nationwide, Hopkins said. The company primarily services communities like Boothbay with standard “box air conditioners,” commonly seen on rooftops of commercial buildings.

    “We had no trouble finding plenty of sites,” Hopkins said. “We don't have any doubt that we will be able to demonstrate to Central Maine Power that Ice Bears will reduce the peak demand in Boothbay by next summer.”

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