Energy Storage and the New Grid - Highlights from the ASHRAE 2019 Winter Conference


Last week, I attended the ASHRAE (The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) Winter Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. ASHRAE is the premier professional association seeking to advance the design and construction of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC&R) systems.

I left the multi-day event inspired and encouraged by the amount of enthusiasm for energy storage and the active interaction between buildings and the grid.

This was my first ASHRAE and I was given a speaking slot at 8am on a Sunday morning as part of a “Thermal Storage for the Cold Chain” session. At 7:45 the room was empty, but by 8:00 there were about 50 people in the audience, including CEO’s, supermarket energy managers, OEM’s, startups, national labs, and other industry professionals.

Later in the day, I attended another session titled “Building Energy Storage: The Future of the Smart Grid” and was thrilled to see the room without an empty seat and folks standing all along the walls. The conference also included two other sessions that were related to energy storage and building load flexibility, and each one not only seemed to generate a significant amount of interest from the audience, but also made it clear that ASHRAE is also committed to energy storage and the growing interactions between buildings and the electrical grid.

Below are some common themes that emerged from the presentations and discussions that I attended, all of which reinforced the idea that energy storage in the HVAC&R world is more relevant and needed than ever:

The electricity grid is changing rapidly

  • The “Duck Curve” and similarly shaped grid load curves from around the world appeared in 4+ presentations to reinforce the challenge posed by all of the variable generation that’s coming online 

  • Buildings are going to need to be active participants, not passive participants, in the new grid. One architect called it a focus on “Demand Side Management” - not just ‘Demand Response” because the building to grid interaction is not going to just occur in isolated events, but continuously throughout the year 

Thermal storage comes in many forms and has many benefits

  • Form factors included: freezing tanks of ice for AC and refrigeration, enormous chilled water tanks (even below a stadium’s field) for cooling and water storage, phase change material (PCM) cassettes applied to cold storage, and using a building’s thermal mass with advanced controls 

  • Roles included: demand reduction and energy bill savings, fast-responding grid frequency regulation, enabling better temperature stability in food, increased resiliency from power outages, extending equipment performance, and applying cooling to gas turbine inlets, which increased power output significantly on hot days. 

Software is a vital component in buildings and mechanical systems

  • In 2011, Andreeson Horowitz famously wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal that claimed software is eating the world, and it’s clear that software has an enormous role to play in how buildings interact with the new grid. 

  • As variable generation represents an ever increasing share of a utility’s power mix, utilities will continue to incentivize or enforce new mechanisms to enable real-time building to grid interaction 

  • All signs point to more intelligent energy operation in buildings and in aggregated installations of energy consuming equipment (like refrigeration systems, air conditioners, water heaters, etc.) that require real-time responses to prices, forecasts, temperature levels, weather, etc. 

  • With thermal systems, the constant translation between heat or cooling and electricity enables active and intelligent participation on the grid. While this seems simple on the surface, it requires a complex mix of inputs including the thermodynamics of the heating or cooling system, the ambient temperatures, the controls strategies, and more. 

I’ll conclude with a quote from ASHRAE’s recent report titled “New Energy Future - What Buildings Professionals Need to Know about Changes Coming to the Electricity Sector”:

As DER [Distributed Energy Resources] technologies and strategies, EVs [Electric Vehicles], and IoT [Internet of Things] continue to proliferate, and the traditional grid evolves to a smart grid, the relationship between buildings and the grid will change. Buildings will become active partners in the electricity sector.

At Axiom Exergy, we are excited to be enabling supermarkets to actively participate in the new grid with the Refrigeration Battery and our intelligent software platform. It’s an exciting time to be in the industry, and this recent ASHRAE conference just further reinforced that sentiment. If you’re interested in learning how to optimize your grocery store or refrigerated warehouse, contact us today.

John is the VP of Sales and Marketing at Axiom Exergy.


John Lerch