Energy 2.0

Coal Power or Ice Power?

Posted on: May 20, 2008

Make ice when electricity is cheap.  Melt the ice for air conditioning when electricity is expensive or in high demand.  Pretty simple alternative to spending billions building new coal fired electric power plants. 


Thermal Energy Storage, TES systems have been in use for almost a hundred years.  One of the original applications was to use a small inexpensive compressor to make ice all week long and then melt all that ice to cool the sanctuary for two hours on Sunday.  We have been using tank type water heaters (hot thermal storage) for years to avoid having large instantaneous gas or electric water heaters. 


So why don’t we find a TES air conditioner in every house and small business?  The answer is also pretty simple:

·          Most electric rates are averaged so it is not less expensive to buy electricity when it should be cheap and it is not more expensive to buy electricity in high demand periods when the price should be exponentially higher.

·          In very round numbers it costs thousands of dollars per kW (or ton of A/C) to fund the construction of electric generation plants, transmission and distribution (TD) infrastructure.  There is no mechanism to divert funds from building these coal fired construction projects to fund installing a TES system in your home or business.  The current conservative estimate of avoided costs to build generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure to serve a three ton air conditioner is $45,000. over the 15 year life of the TES system.


Should we invest in new coal generating plants or invest a fraction of that in your home?


If the above economic rationalization isn’t enough to convince you consider the following.


·          Running your air conditioner at night is much more efficient because the ambient outside temperature is much lower and you’re a/c unit operates more efficiently.

·          Running the generating turbine at night is much more efficient for the same reason, lower night temperatures.

·          All power plants run more efficiently when they are fully loaded and demand is predictable.

·          Transmission and distribution is more efficient at night.


A massive deployment of TES will postpone the need to build additional power plants for many years.  We can land on the moon.  Why can’t we make ice?


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