Thermal Energy Storage lets cold storage facilities slash energy usage, easing pressure on the grid during peak hours
  • Viking Cold Solutions technology lets cold-storage facilities reduce their energy demand and cut expenditures. 
  • When paired with solar panels, the technology cuts the need for power from the grid by 95%. 
  • Energy storage systems will have to be adopted on a massive scale to cut emissions of carbon and mitigate climate change. 

Paul Robbins was looking for a way to move frozen food from Florida to Puerto Rico efficiently when he came up with a method to store thermal energy.

The fruits of his labor founded the company Viking Cold Solutions and are now offered to frozen-food storage providers and utilities looking to curb energy use. The company’s Thermal Energy Storage (TES) technology stockpiles power in the form of cold for future use.

“We save energy during peak demand periods,” James Bell, president and CEO of Viking Cold Solutions, told Karma. “The economic benefits can range from 20% to 50%.”

TES allows a cold-storage facility to acquire electricity when prices are lowest — or, if paired with onsite solar panels, during sunny hours — and then maintain low temperatures during the remainder of the day. Sealed plastic bottles filled with water and hydrated salt solutions act as a phase-change material and are paired with software that optimizes temperature and energy usage. There are no mechanical components in the system, aimed at cold-storage facilities because they require the most intense use of energy per cubic foot.

“Our proprietary software allows us to measure energy usage,” Bell said. “It can be used as a battery. It becomes a hybrid facility.”

Lithium-ion and other batteries have a number of drawbacks ranging from their inherent volatility to environmental damage, which aren’t issues with TES. Improved energy storage systems will be needed to facilitate the transition to clean, renewable electricity, according to Bill Gates.

The San Diego Food Bank used Viking Cold’s technology in combination with solar panels, and saw an immense decline in its need for electricity from the grid. The solar panels allowed the facility to be independent of the grid during the day and TES kept the refrigeration off the grid at night.

“In San Diego, a warehouse had a 95% reduction on grid-sourced power by pairing solar with our technology,” Bell said. “They only needed the grid-sourced power for lighting and a few other things at night.”

The technology allows perishable food to remain fresh when electricity is cut, adding to resilience in areas such as California, where rolling blackouts have become a common summer occurrence, and in the southeast U.S. and Caribbean, which are prone to hurricanes. 

“Food can last for a few days when the power is out, a huge benefit in hurricane country,” Bell said. “In Puerto Rico, our customers saved millions of dollars during Hurricanes Maria and Irma.”

Viking Cold has been retrofitting buildings from Bermuda to Sydney, Australia, since Robbins founded the company in 2011, and is now involved with planning projects from the ground up, allowing for lower energy use and greater savings.

“We have been working with a few construction companies and the projects are being finished as we speak,” Bell said. “It’s enormously more cost-effective to have a building built with our technology at the start. We can right-size the equipment to fit the needs of the client.” 

Lower cost may increasingly lead to the inclusion of thermal energy storage in the designs of new construction. TES has a levelized cost of less than 2 cents per kilowatt, while lithium batteries would cost 20 cents or more, according to Viking Cold. 

“I believe thermal energy storage will be like insulation soon, something you just put in when constructing a new building,” Bell said.