Energy 2.0

Why Thermal Storage?

Posted on: July 26, 2008

 If demand reduction and off-peak power consumption continue to command substantial discounts in electric power costs, the question arises, “Why will thermal storage continue to be an attractive method of achieving load shifting in the deregulated energy market?” Several reasons include: Thermal storage systems target the most egregious contributor to poor load profiles-commercial cooling systems. Also, the technology exists and is proven. Thermal storage represents one of the few legitimate tools for shifting load. Energy efficiency benefits society and the customer, but thermal storage also benefits the industry setting the price for that energy.

  1. Thermal storage systems are designed for the commercial customer (who always pays the highest time-dependent rates).
  2. Storage systems do not negatively impact a facility’s operation, as other load shedding or load control programs almost always do.
  3. Existing thermal storage technology is easily adaptable to central chilled water plants. Even though centralized chillers only serve about 25% of commercial floor space, Thermal storage systems can make a significant difference in relatively few installations.
  4. Thermal storage is versatile. Other than the certainty that on-peak power consumption will continue to command a premium, there is little assurance concerning the form those rates will take. In many cases customers will have a choice as to the structure of the demand penalties. Traditionally, a simple demand charge (kW) and energy charge (kWh), often including a time-of-day differential, have been used to discourage on-peak electrical use. Rate design will surely be more exotic in a deregulated environment as providers maneuver to offer the most competitive plans possible. Real-time rates, often superimposed on a traditional demand structure, and interruptible rates, a fairly common tool in natural gas pricing, will also grow in availability.

Thermal storage is also cost effective. DSM programs have helped to foster the growth and acceptance of thermal storage. The generous terms of these programs often made it economical to install storage capacities capable of avoiding all the on-peak chiller operation. This is referred to as “full storage.” Often forgotten is the fact that if the goals are more modest, thermal storage can be installed with little or no cost penalty as compared to conventional chiller systems. DSM incentives are certainly welcome, but not necessary to make thermal storage a good investment. There are no defined limits on the quantity of storage that can be theoretically applied to a building.

An alternative referred to as “partial storage” minimizes or eliminates any additional initial capital investment. By operating a chiller for the entire day, on-peak at standard conditions and off-peak at ice-making conditions, its size is usually reduced to 40% to 50% of the conventional design.

Storage is only needed for about 40% to 45% of the required ton-hours. Both chiller and storage are greatly reduced in size, compared to the “full storage” design. Peak demand savings of 50% to 60% of the standard chiller demand are usually achieved.

Many examples exist of effective thermal storage systems that were installed for little or no additional cost over their conventional alternatives and that also provide significant energy and energy cost reductions.

The economics of thermal storage can usually be justified under any power rate that significantly penalizes on-peak power consumption.

As Laurence J. Peter once said, “An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn’t happen today.” The same can easily be said of electric industry analysts. Engineers will take refuge in whatever facts they can grasp within the confused and nebulous nature of today’s electric power industry.

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