Protecting Your Family From Skyrocketing Power Costs

by Dr. Marcel Christians, Co-COO, Ice Energy

High electricity bills got your family budget down? The answer is as simple as a block of ice — one equipped with 21st century intelligence.

As utilities in California and elsewhere work to reduce reliance on power plants fueled by climate-changing gas, oil and nuclear fuel, they are increasingly asking homeowners to pay higher rates for electricity used during peak demand periods — typically between 4 and 9 p.m. These higher rates are called time-of-use rates, which can change depending on the day of the week, time of day, seasons and holidays.

The new rate structure has created an opportunity for homeowners to save money on their electricity bills. However, the only way to take advantage of these savings is through intelligent, energy-efficient equipment that can adjust energy use to avoid paying peak rates. Efficiently managing air conditioning can save homeowners as much as 40 percent on their energy bills.

The rate shift is due to the state’s push to use more solar-generated electricity, which provides clean power during the daytime hours when the sun is burning brightly. But solar capacity diminishes later in the day, forcing utilities to fire up polluting fossil fuel plants during evening hours when demand remains high before people go to bed.

To encourage homeowners to use less power during peak periods, utilities are beginning to shift from flat per-kilowatt hour rates to time-of-use peak pricing, which can double (or more) the price of electricity used during those high-demand hours.

That poses a challenge for most families. How do you cut electricity costs when parents are returning from work, kids are coming home from sports and other after-school activities, and everyone’s turning down the thermostat to air-condition the house against the heat outside?

By turning to a new solution that has its roots in an old-fashioned cooling method: the ice box.

Traditional air conditioners work by removing heat from inside your home using electrically powered compressors and refrigerant. But as temperatures rise throughout the day, those units have to work harder and harder — which forces them to use more and more electricity.

A thermal energy storage air conditioner takes a different approach. It kicks into action during the overnight hours when energy demand — and prices — drop, using affordable power to freeze hundreds of gallons of tap water into a block of ice.

The next evening, rather than tapping into expensive outside electricity to cool the air flowing through your home, the thermal unit draws on a 320-gallon supply of ice to cool the air. This approach reduces peak-period energy consumption by about 95 percent, cutting a family’s average monthly electric bills by $100 to $200, depending on usage.

The system features the familiar components of traditional air conditioners, including condensing coils, pumps and a heat exchanger. But it adds a tank in which to store the water and, crucially, a device to monitor electricity prices and tell the unit when to freeze it at the lowest-cost time. It acts like a thermal battery — or, if you will, an intelligent ice box.

Ice-producing units have emerged as one of the leading solutions to the challenge of storing renewably generated power, according to NPR. In addition to helping to reduce reliance on climate-damaging power plants, the thermal units can generate healthy savings in your monthly power bills. What could be cooler?

Visit our residential information page to learn more about getting thermal energy storage in your home.