Jason Dreisbach fields at least half a dozen calls every week from people trying to sell him a technology to lower his energy costs. As the owner of Dreisbach Enterprises, a cold-storage facility owner with operations in Northern California, he’s a popular target. Cold storage — from frozen food warehouses to grocery and restaurant refrigeration — has one of the highest energy costs of any industry; energy expenditures are usually second only to payroll.
Dreisbach endures sales pitches that run the gamut of energy solutions, from LED lighting to rooftop solar to fuel cells. When Viking Cold Solutions reached out in 2017 with a thermal energy storage technology, his interest was piqued because, even though he had many questions, “it was not a foreign concept,” he said. The battle in cold storage is not keeping things cold, but rather removing heat. “We are constantly fighting [British thermal unit] intrusion,” Dreisbach explained. Viking Cold offered something that aided in the battle.
Cold storage facilities have long been a target for energy-efficiency and demand-response programs because of their intense energy needs. And yet, these ubiquitous facilities have not been fully tapped for their energy savings or potential as flexible energy resources. Some promising companies with mechanically complex thermal energy storage solutions targeting the commercial sectors, including the cold chain, have exited the business or turned to software-based offerings only.
It’s a tough sell to get any business, especially grocers or frozen-food warehouses, to give up valuable square footage for any energy storage solution, or to put their customers’ products in jeopardy to save on costs. Because of this, Viking Cold has found that many of its potential clients have had limited success with demand-management participation. And until recently, most utilities have not actively sought out long-duration energy storage as part of their grid flexibility portfolio. Now, that is all changing.
A big target, easily overlooked
Viking Cold Solutions didn’t set out to develop a technology for utilities to tap as a grid resource. Its founder simply wanted to move more frozen foods more efficiently between Jacksonville, Florida and Puerto Rico for clients such as Sam’s Club. The patented solution leverages thermal energy storage to the benefit of frozen-food storage providers and utilities.
In simple terms, all thermal energy solutions involve the heating or chilling of water or another medium, which is then used to shift energy loads. In the case of Viking Cold’s technology, it also improves efficiency. Thermal energy storage is currently a small but growing portion of the behind-the-meter energy storage market, according to Wood Mackenzie’s energy storage analysts.