Ice Is Nice: Veolia Acquires Into Ice Thermal Energy Storage

Is the ice battery finally getting its day in the sun? Veolia Energy North America, a subsidiary of massive French energy and water company Veolia Environnement (s VE), announced on Wednesday that it has snapped up a district cooling system that uses ice to lower the cost of cooling buildings from Baltimore-based Comfort Link. Financial details were not disclosed, but Veolia says the purchase gives it one of the largest existing ice thermal storage systems in the U.S.

Comfort Link’s Baltimore district cooling system has had $80 million in capital investment, has a total cooling capacity of 32,000 tons, includes more than 10 miles of chilled-water distribution piping, and serves more than 11.5 million square feet of buildings. Comfort Link essentially sells cooling as a service by owning, operating and maintaining the district system for its customers. Prior to the acquisition, Veolia provided centrally produced steam, hot water and chilled water to about 250 commercial, government, institutional and hospitality customers in Baltimore, but the deal marks the company’s first foray into using ice for thermal storage, John Gibson, Veolia Energy’s VP of the southeast region and general manager for its Baltimore operations, tells us.

Ice thermal storage systems have been attracting increased attention lately because of their ability to lower energy costs and provide more energy-efficient cooling for buildings. Last month, for example, Windsor, Colo.-based Ice Energy, which has raised more than $74 million in funding, announced a deal to build a 53 MW ice thermal energy storage system for Southern California Public Power Authority, a consortium of 11 municipal utilities and one irrigation district.

Air-conditioning is one of the biggest energy hogs in larger buildings and is often needed even during colder months because of the internal heat gains from people, lighting and equipment. Ice thermal storage systems like Comfort Link’s produce ice by running chillers at night, when demand for, and the cost of, energy is low. During the day, when energy is in higher demand and costs rise, the ice is used to help cool buildings. The systems minimize capital investment by running the chillers around the clock and by reducing the size of the mechanical cooling equipment needed to condition buildings compared with conventional technology.

Veolia said it anticipates expanding the Comfort Link system to add more customers in the area. As part of the deal, eight Comfort Link employees were hired by Veolia, Gibson said. Veolia purchased Comfort Link’s district cooling system business line but not the entire company. Comfort Link also provides consulting services around building heating, cooling and air conditioning, though it’s unclear if the company will continue operations.

Image of a water-cooled chiller courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user P199.