CALMAC Energy Storage Solution A Viable Option For Integrating Renewable Energy Generation

Posted on December 15th, 2010 by

Mark MacCracken, the CEO of CALMAC, emphasizes the importance of energy storage and how companies like his are finding innovative ways to make energy storage a more viable option.

Full Transcript:

Ben Lack: I’m here with Mark MacCracken, the CEO of CALMAC and also soon to be the chair of the U.S. Green Building Council. Thanks so much for being with us today.

Mark MacCracken: My pleasure.

Ben Lack: Could you talk to us about what CALMAC does and what kind of technologies you guys are trying to offer to your customers?

Mark MacCracken: We’ve been in the energy storage business for over 30 years now. Essentially we store cooling in the form of ice for air conditioning buildings. Essentially you are making ice at night and then during the day, you are melting the ice in order to cool the building. What that does for you is shift your electric load to nighttime when it’s normally half the price. It’s also more efficient to generate electricity at night and normally less polluting also. So it’s a win—

Ben Lack: Is this replacing an air conditioning unit?

Mark MacCracken: It’s not replacing a unit. Normally, it’s downsizing a unit. What it’s really doing is it is decoupling the need for cooling from when you create it. So, for instance, just like in a hot water heater in your house, you create the hot water the night before and then it’s ready for all the showers in the morning. So you decoupled when you need it from when you created the heat. In the same way we create the cooling the night before and have it ready for the building the next day, with standards systems when you need the cooling is when you create it and that’s why we draw so much power during the hot part of the afternoon and the utilities strain to meet that. And because they’re straining so much, they charge you a lot for that. So this kind of helps the utility and helps the customer at the same time.

Ben Lack: Are most of your customers on the commercial side?

Mark MacCracken: Yeah. I would say commercial and then schools are a very large application. We have probably 1500 schools around the country and around the world.

Ben Lack: So these are big systems that are on campuses that connect to the building, not to something that’s small that’s next to a house.

Mark MacCracken: Yes, exactly. The smallest projects we normally would do would be a, let’s say a high school size building. It could be a single building, but a high school size. And we go from there up to skyscrapers like the new Bank of America tower in New York City which is the second tallest building in New York.

Ben Lack: When you sell the system, are you selling it based on how much energy or cooling it’s going to produce the next day? Or are you doing it based on a kilowatt hour savings? Or how does that happen?

Mark MacCracken: Well, let’s just give an example. It’s probably the easiest thing. So let’s take a big building of a thousand-ton system. For a thousand-ton building which might be a large office building or something of that nature, what we would do is install, instead of putting in a thousand-ton chiller to create the cooling that gets distributed throughout the building, you might put in a 500-ton chiller. And at night, run that chiller and create cooling. And then during the day, run that 500-ton chiller and then melt the ice in order to help that meet the thousand-ton load at the building. So you downsize the amount of cooling chiller system that you need in order to meet that building’s peak demand.

Ben Lack: Where are you getting the water?

Mark MacCracken: Well, the water goes into our tanks and then never leaves the tanks. So basically what we make is a all-plastic tank that’s completed insulated on all sides and in that tank, we put three miles of plastic tubing. The tank itself is about 8-foot diameter, 8-foot high. That tubing in the tank takes up 10% of the volume of the tank. Eighty percent of the volume is water, and then there’s about 10% expansion space because when you freeze the water to ice it takes up a little bit more volume. So we might put one of these tanks on a job or a hundred of these tanks on a job, depending on how big the building is. So the water never goes anywhere. It just sits in a tank and changes state from water to ice and then back to water again. What does go in and out of the tank is a coolant solution which goes through the tubing and at night, it goes through at a low temperature, like about 25 Fahrenheit so the water surrounding the tubes freeze to ice. And then during the daytime, you put warm liquids through that tubing and now it will melt the ice and that liquid will now circulate to the building and cool the building. So the occupant never sees any difference. It’s still cool air coming out of a grill in the ceiling but that creation of the cooling happened the night before mainly.

Ben Lack: So there’s really not going to be any type of an impact on the customer’s water bill because the moment the water’s there you’re never going to really ever need it again or need to add more rather.

Mark MacCracken: Exactly.

Ben Lack: Interesting. And so I guess the big issues that you guys are trying to tackle is, I would assume, correct me if I’m wrong, peak demand?

Mark MacCracken: Yeah, peak demand is a huge problem for the utilities. In most areas of the country, the last 20% of generation that’s needed to be given by the utilities, we only need that for less than 2% of the entire year. So they have to invest a tremendous amount of money and generation and wires and transformers for a very, very short period of time. So what we try to do and can do is to knock off the peaks of the building. And so the more buildings we get installed, we’ll be able to address that. Now this entire problem is getting compounded greatly when you start adding renewable energy to the grid. So renewable energy like wind, wind mainly blows at nighttime. Well, at nighttime, there’s not a big need for power. Okay? And the wind is not blowing during the peak of the day which is when utilities need the power the most. So that if we have wind blowing at night, we can take that electricity, run it to the building, run these compressors, create cooling, and store the cooling and then the next day you don’t need those electrons to create the cooling because we’ve already created it and have it sitting at the building.

Ben Lack: So you’re really branding your solution almost as a bridge between renewable energy generation and the end-user.

Mark MacCracken: Exactly. Energy storage is going to be huge as we move towards renewables And the reason is simply because fossil fuels are not just energy. There’s a form of stored energy. And so if we’re going to try to replace it with things like real energy which is solar which is hot or wind which is moving, you know, that’s kinetic energy, we’re also going to have to replace the storage capability of that fossil fuel in order to really replace it. Our entire grid is based up on stored energy, energy being ready to go when we need more powers. So energy storage on the grid side of the electric meter and on the building side are going to be needed. We store energy, our company does, on the building side of the meter and that happens to be the least expensive way to store the energy. So we’re going to see in the future a lot more storage at buildings. We’re also going to need storage on the grid and there’s a number of different ways to do that.

Ben Lack: Yeah, that’s definitely something I think the entire country is dealing with is the fact that people are really having to get creative about energy storage solutions because the cost of energy storage is so high. I’m curious to know, let’s go with the thousand-tons of cooling example that you were talking about a little bit earlier. With your solution, can you give us a range of dollars saved in a month that somebody might be able to see what cutting that peak demand?

Mark MacCracken: Sure, I’m just trying to do some numbers in my hand right now. But you would probably be saving in a New York City application with that type-size building, you might be saving anywhere from a quarter million dollars a year to a half a million dollars a year in electricity.

Ben Lack: So it’s real dollars?

Mark MacCracken: Oh, it’s serious dollars. It is very expensive to create and deliver power at peak. Right now most utilities kind of average it out a little bit for you. They do charge you more during the day than they do at nighttime and that day-to-night usually is about 50% when you calculate everything in. If they actually go to real-time pricing on those really hot peak days, the cost of getting that electricity to you is probably ten times what it is at nighttime. So it’s not a two times multiplier, it’s a ten times multiplier. So as we move towards real-time pricing, you’re going to see bigger swings between the real hot days and the cooler days.

Ben Lack: So your solution’s really going to be most effective in the areas where there is going to be more cooling?

Mark MacCracken: Well, it’s interesting that even in the northern climates, I mean, you think about Boston versus, let’s say, Miami, you certainly need more air conditioning during the entire year in Miami versus New England, but the peakiness of New England is actually very, very extreme so when they do need that cooling in the hot part of the summer, their peaks are extremely high. For instance, the New England grid, as I said before, 21% of the last highest amount of power that they need, they only need for less than 2% of the hour so it’s still very peakish. So you need to be able to chop the air conditioning peaks off of everywhere. You’ll have more months of application in Miami than you will in Boston, but the KW reduction is still the same.

Ben Lack: Do state and federal governments help out a business like yours with incentives or laws that are in place so that you can get out there faster?

Mark MacCracken: They are certainly moving in that direction. There have been quite a number of incentives on the renewable energy side. For instance, photovoltaic solar collectors going up on the roof, there are major, major incentives out there, both on the federal side and state by state. There, to date, has been very little, if any, for energy storage which is not smart because wind has been built, for instance, in west Texas and yet 12% of the hours last year in west Texas, the price of electricity was zero or less and that was because they had so much wind available and no place for the power to go, that they have to give it away or even actually pay you to take the power because it doesn’t correspond with when they need the power. So the good news is that certain states like California have now started to analyze and are probably moving forward with incentives for energy storage, both on the grid side and on building side. There’s been certain legislation there that is now ordering the California utility regulators to analyze this carefully and come out with a program that will encourage storage. Because if you encourage storage and having centers for storage, you will be able to multiply the effect or the effectiveness of the renewable energy that they’ve already been subsidizing.

Ben Lack: Interesting. And I guess that the other thing too is that if you guys are already out there selling energy storage solutions and you’ve been in business for as long as you have with very little help from the government then if the government ever decides to really turn the focus towards finding better solutions and finding more incentives for your industry, then you just get there a lot faster.

Mark MacCracken: Exactly. I mean, we do, as I’ve said, have about 3500 installations around the world in 36 countries so we are out there, but it’s been a very slow process and we sell specifically just on energy and energy cost-savings for building owners. What’s going to happen now is, with getting some incentives in there, we will accelerate it to the point where we can really start utilizing the renewable sources, making them reliable and being there and starting to have a very positive effect on the environment.

Ben Lack: Does any customer get additional points for LEED Certification for using your system?

Mark MacCracken: Absolutely. LEED is based on energy cost reduction in a new construction site. And so since power is half-price at night, we can have a very good impact on the LEED EA credits or the Energy & Atmosphere credits. So, yes, it’s a very, very positive thing. There’s not a lot of things that have a big impact on the energy costs, but thermal storage happens to be one of them.

Ben Lack: Well, I have to ask you since you’re about to come on board with Green Building Council. What can we start to expect? What’s on the agenda for 2011?

Mark MacCracken: I think the most exciting thing is that we are certifying. So not people registering to do a building, but we are actually certifying. So people having gone through the process and getting a certified silver, gold or platinum rating over a million square feet a day.

Ben Lack: That’s incredible.

Mark MacCracken: Which is just an amazing number and it really shows that we are creating market transformation because it doesn’t matter that much whether it was gold or silver or platinum. That is a lot of people thinking about and actually taking action and the actions having a positive effect. So it is changing the way buildings are being constructed and how waste is being created and eliminated and right down the line. It’s quite amazing.

Ben Lack: So I’m curious. This is actually going to be the final question, and it’s something that we ask of everyone in the series. Why is it that you do what you do? Why are you in the industry that you’re in?

Mark MacCracken: Well, it’s kind of, I would say, in the blood. I have our home movies from when I was growing up and there’s one of me kicking a soccer ball for the first time when I’m one, and that was 1955. And on that video the next video is the first solar energy convention in Phoenix, Arizona in 1955, and my father was there showing his wares. He was a terrific inventor. And my other brother is one of the top scientists in the world on climate change. It’s real. And so why I do, I think it’s just, it’s critical. We are having such a big effect on the planet. The naysayers are wrong. And I think that’s one of the things that’s spectacular about going to Green Build and which is USGBC’s show which we just had in Chicago. People get it and they’re just trying to do the right thing, trying to take us in a better direction. And I just love being apart of that.

Ben Lack: Well, Mark, I appreciate you telling us a little bit about the company and kind of why you are putting your efforts towards these types of issues. Thanks so much for the time today and let’s definitely stay in touch.

Mark MacCracken: You’re welcome. Thanks very much.

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