Converting water to ice is a means of removing heat from H20, physicist Jan Olaf Gunderson explained. The heat is then expelled through the back of the freezing unit, warming homes.
"In Norway almost all new homes are heated by heat pumps built into the wall, with the 'back of the freezer' on the inside of the home and the 'freezer' on the outside of the home," said Gunderson, a Norwegian national. "A home freezer is a typical heat pump, and the cheapest way to heat your home is to fill the freezer with water, then when the water is in the form of ice, throw out the block of ice outside of your house, then fill the freezer with water again."
Ice Energy seems intent on capitalizing on the same sort of simple system in the inverse, and Ramirez readily admits his technology applies best to warm climates. Energy is lost in the conversion process from ice back to water (as much as 15 percent), but Ramirez said a temperature gradient of 15 degrees Fahrenheit or more from day to night makes the product energy neutral.
"In most of California, the average gradient [the difference between day and night temperatures] is 22 degrees," Ramirez said. "We have a natural advantage provided by cooler temperatures to reject heat, instead of running the AC that has to overcome heat during the day."
As for water supply, the Ice Bear is filled once and never filled again. And Ramirez insists the concept is storage by any other name, just not the kind of storage people tend to anticipate.
"It's a battery filled with water," Ramirez said, taking up the hybrid-car analogy. "I think you can draw the conclusion that nothing will ever be cheaper as a storage medium."
Visit to Capitol Hill
Ramirez said California is an ideal venue for bring his Ice Bears to market for another reason: The state has on the books a renewable portfolio standard of 20 percent by 2010 and to 33 percent by 2020.
Citing a report on wind power by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Ramirez said what nobody wants to admit in California that an intermittent source like wind tends to be weakest during peak power periods. When it is hottest, in other words, the wind tends not to blow as hard.
This would make wind an unreliable source during hot, windless days when some sort of storage medium might counteract that reality. "The greatest output of wind occurs 180 degrees out of phase with the peak," Ramirez said. "It's variable in nature and typically blows when you don't need it."
So to this executive, the answer is pairing ice storage with renewables as complementary technologies. He also said the distributed nature of his machines means less loss of electricity through transmission and distribution, in addition to more reliance on baseload power, which is more efficient than peaking power.
"Air conditioning demand is the root cause of the peaking power problem," Ramirez said, noting that 14 peaking units have been stymied recently in Southern California by environmental justice activists who do not want the plants built in low-income neighborhoods.
At least one prominent lawmaker, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), has become a believer. Pelosi recently invited Ramirez to address the House Democratic caucus, where he gave Democrats much the same pitch he presented to this reporter.
Up next? Ramirez said he is talking to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power -- the largest public utility in the United States -- about signing a deal that could potentially dwarf the Southern California Public Power Authority arrangement. On the table in those discussions is building a manufacturing facility in Southern California, which is a high priority for a state facing 12 percent unemployment.