There’s nothing new about the idea of artificial ice, which has been around long enough for people to get pretty good at making it. Facilities like the Castlegar Community Complex take a lot of pride in creating a sheet that hockey players, figure skaters and the general public can feel good about competing and recreating upon.
Questions about ice quality were not the reason the RDCK operators of the complex, and FortisBC decided to be part of a pilot project to examine the performance of a Swedish innovation known as REALice.
The commodity has been in place at the complex for the last while, and it’s purposely not been publicized.
Castlegar and District Recreation Department, manager of recreation Jim Crockett says it’s been business (or pleasure) as usual at the rink, with no one really noticing any difference in the surface.
The REALice trial is a timely one, as the first use of the technology took place at the site of the recent World Junior Hockey Championships in Sweden.
“Nineteen ninety-eight was the first system we put in place, in Malmo,” said Hakan Gronlund, a man whose job it is to promote the ice technology worldwide. He and associate Florian Gabriel were in Castlegar on January 20 to meet with media. “We actually started marketing the product in 2008,” said Gronlund, adding that the original set-up in Malmo has worked flawlessly ever since ‘98.
“We became aware of REALice in July of 2012 and saw it as a great opportunity for ice rink operators to reduce the energy bills of municipalities,” stated FortisBC’s Sarah Smith, Director, Energy Efficiency and Conservation via email. “The traditional ice resurfacing process involves heating up water to remove impurities, then cooling it down to freezing. With the REALice equipment, the water is spun in a vortex, so doesn’t need to be heated up. By eliminating the need to heat the water, there’s the potential to significantly reduce the energy required to resurface ice.”
Jim Crockett, at the rink on Monday, says it’s part of an ongoing effort to be more efficient and cost effective at the complex.
“We’ve been working quite extensively on energy efficiencies in the building for the last couple of years. We’ve put some significant dollars in… and this is just one more step. Before we got the unit installed, Fortis representatives came and installed equipment into our system,” Crockett explained. “They were monitoring our ice conditions, the water temperature, how often we were flooding, and what was happening with our compressors. The steps were then taken to install the system.”
FortisBC’s Smith’s input continued, “To test the equipment, we invested $300,000 to fund this pilot program. We partnered with 10 ice rinks in cities and towns across the province, and are funding 100 per cent of the costs associated with installing the REALice technology.
“FortisBC’s role in this pilot is as an objective observer. We have installed monitoring equipment to measure and verify the manufacturer’s energy saving claims. Additionally, we’re tracking the quality of the ice through feedback from the ice operators and ice rink patrons.”
“I want to credit FortisBC for taking the lead here in British Columbia to introduce this technology,” stated Gabriel. “By putting out the rebate for the ten pilots, they have opened the door.”
There seems to be an abundance of pluses with the REALice, the use of which is becoming more and more widespread. For example, the high-profile outdoor classic type of hockey games, like the upcoming events in Vancouver and Los Angeles will be played on REALice, according to Gronlund.
And the benefits are just too appealing to discount.
“Not only are we saving by not heating the water, but we’re saving on the other side when we put the water down,” said Crockett. “We’re putting cold instead of hot water on the ice surface, so we’ll save on the compressor operation time, we’ll save on the maintenance of the compressors because they’re not running near as much. Overall, everything should be better. In addition, because the ice will be harder and more dense, we can raise the temperature of the ice as well, and still have the same quality, so again, we’ll be saving because we’ll be running at a higher, warmer temperature.”
Sarah Smith offered some estimates in her email message:
“We anticipate that the 10 ice rinks will realize a combined natural gas savings of 28,489 gigajoules over the 10 year life of the equipment – the equivalent to heating about 316 homes, or taking almost 300 cars off the road for an entire year.
“In terms of electricity, we anticipate 2,855,067 kilowatt hours of savings, the equivalent electricity needed to power 228 homes for a year.
We will be evaluating the results of the pilot in February.
If the predicted energy savings are realized, we plan to use the data to encourage the B.C. marketplace to adopt the new technology.”
Nelson, incidentally, is also part of this pilot REALice program along with rinks in Delta, Richmond, Prince George, Duncan, Kamloops, Kelowna and Vancouver.