This article by Gainesville Sun Correspondent Olivia Vega was published in the Gainesville Sun on July 7.
Ice is being used for a lot more than snow cones this summer.
The Alachua County Library Headquarters' new cooling system is storing ice and saving money, and Gainesville Regional Utilities is looking for other large energy users to consider the system.
Dan Whitcraft, library facilities administrator, was the one who originally proposed using CALMAC's thermal energy storage system, which works by freezing water at night when energy rates are lower. He worked with GRU to make it happen.
"At first we were skeptical,” said Dan Clark, a large-account representative at GRU, “but once we took another look at it, it really works.”
Clark said he hopes to bring other forward-thinking commercial customers to see the library's system. The system saves the library money on energy use by switching its consumption from daytime “peak” hours to nighttime “off-peak” hours.
The system's chiller freezes the water in the system's tanks during GRU's off-peak hours. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., energy use for the library costs 0.023 cents per kilowatt-hour as opposed to the peak energy hours, which cost 0.072 cents per kwh.
Whitcraft said there are a few other CALMAC Thermal Energy Systems in Florida, but the library has the first system in Alachua County.
Hidden behind a wall on East University, five 8-foot-tall aluminum tanks work to cool the library, which on a normal day sees about 1,000 people. Whitcraft said more people visit during the hot summer months.
Starting at 6 a.m., the tanks melt the ice and use the cold water to flow cool air through the 80,000-square-foot building.
“(The system) is a really simple idea, but (CALMAC) perfected it,” Whitcraft said.
The five tanks cost about $69,000 but should save the library about $40,000 per year, Whitcraft said. He expects savings to cover the cost of the tanks in under two years, and said the tanks, which have a life-expectancy of 25 years, were a good use of taxpayer money.
A year ago, the library's cooling system used about 5,500 kilowatts of energy during the day, Whitcraft said. With the new system, the library uses about 2,700 kilowatts per day.
“If you can knock off 50 percent, I would say that's a great thing, Whitcraft said.
Whitcraft said the Alachua County Public Library's director, Shaney Livingston, was extremely supportive of the project, and the system may be used at the library's Tower Road location.
“This system is making a difference,” Whitcraft said.
Clark said that as an “energy nerd,” he's most excited to watch the library's energy bill. He said he absolutely believes it will save the library money, but as to how much, only time will tell.
He said the library's long-term savings are what other customers will want to see. He compared the new system to LED lights.
“A number of years ago, people were hesitant to try LED lights,” Clark said. “One of the greatest advantages was to tell customers 'Go look at them in use at these locations.' We're applying that same kind of concept here. The library is leading the way for others.”
Photo of Dan Whitcraft with cooling tanks taken by Gainesville Sun photographer Doug Finger. Photo of tanks being installed was taken by Alachua County Library District staff.