Ice Bear Thermal Storage Units Come to Canada's MEC


John and I have covered Ice Bear units before. It is one of those simple, elegant ideas: Instead of using peak daytime (and often more expensive) electricity to cool your home or office during the day, use your air conditioner to make ice at night (it is cheaper and cooler) and use the ice during the day. Now Canada's Mountain Equipment Coop has installed four of them in their new Burlington, Ontario, store. Tyler Hamilton describes them in the Star:


MEC Ice Bear unit; Hamilton Spectator
The concept behind the Ice Bear is quite simple: at night, when electricity is plentiful, a condensing unit pumps refrigerant through copper coils equally distributed through the body of the water-filled unit, which is heavily insulated. The coils freeze the 1,800 litres of water in the unit and then automatically shut off.

During the day, when power demands peak and electricity is more expensive, the system is reversed and the ice is used to cool air that is circulated through a building's ventilation system. The biggest energy draw that's really used at this point is 300 watts to run a ventilation fan. That's the equivalent of having three incandescent light bulbs on.


smoothing out the electrical demand

The units aren't cheap, and consultant James Alden noted that "You're not going to sell this to a customer strictly on a payback perspective, with the exception of companies aiming for LEED certification."

But he notes that if the utilities deployed enough of these, they could replace "peaker" power plants and possibly defer transmission system upgrades. More from Tyler Hamilton in the Star.


The Ice Bears are just the icing on the cake of the Burlington store, the greenest they have built yet. MEC lists its features:

-The structure and envelope are designed to be disassembled and repurposed when the building reaches the end of its useful life. Mechanically fastened wood structures, panelized walls, and some of the exterior and interior finishes can be taken apart and reused.


-Solar collectors on the roof generate 56kW of electricity which is purchased by Ontario Hydro and fed back to the power grid. Revenue generated from the sale of this power helps offset the cost of purchasing the solar collectors and electrical system. MEC purchases wind-generated power to meet 100% of the building's electrical needs. In addition to generating electricity, the solar collectors produce heat that's supplied to the building heating and domestic hot water systems.

-A stormwater retention system provides water for all non-potable uses. Stormwater management includes rain gardens, an infiltration gallery, and two large cisterns. The system is designed to accommodate a 100-year storm cycle. Low-flow fixtures and dual flush toilets reduce the store's potable water requirements by half.


However it should be noted that MEC is extremely popular among treehugger types, who lost no time noting that this super-green store is built in big box country, and is pretty much inaccessible except by private car. As Sean Burak wrote in Raise the Hammer:

It just makes no sense that they are locating in the middle of a highway/big box/strip mall/suburban nightmare, and they have the gall to claim that it is "centrally located and readily accessible", and "located in an area of the city that's experiencing regrowth".

It is literally surrounded by highway right of ways which will never be developed and low density retail/housing which, let's be honest, is never going to be torn down to make way for mixed use buildings.....

I know that they have bills to pay, and I know that their new building is going to be really cool (LEED and all), but in the end, all of that is going to go down the tubes when every customer visits them by way of single occupancy vehicle.

It's true, there isn't much point in it. In the end, socially responsible and green businesses have to face the fact that big boxes will never be green. All the Ice Bears and solar collectors in the world won't offset that.

More on Ice Bear:
Ice Bear: Thermal Storage for Cheaper AC
Ice Bear In Every Public Building: A Victorville CA Energy Conservation Goal
Air Conditioning With Ice Energy - Climate Saving Can Be Cool

More on Mountain Equipment Coop:

Green Roof on MEC Building
MEC Become Transparent with PVC-Free DryBags
Eco-chic Flotation from MEC
MEC Nixes Nalgenes

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