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By Douglas Poffinbarger

Climate change poses a profound and urgent threat to our planet, impacting ecosystems, economies, and communities worldwide. In order to effectively address this crisis, one of the key actions should be moving away from fossil fuel dependency to using renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydropower, to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Commercial buildings are major contributors to energy consumption and thus implementing energy-efficient practices and technologies within this sector is crucial. Therefore, addressing climate change in the context of commercial buildings is a pivotal endeavor that holds significant potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability.

thermal energy storage, renewable energy
Nostromo’s IceBrick system installed on a commercial building in Jerusalem. (Photo: Nostromo)

Acknowledging The Challenges

Among the many challenges faced by engineers and architects when designing and constructing new buildings is maximizing the efficiency of the infrastructure systems such as energy and water while simultaneously ensuring that the building’s design is aesthetically pleasing and up to code. 

In the energy realm, one method architects and engineers can use to achieve this goal is through the use of Modular Thermal Energy Storage Systems (mTESS). These systems enable flexibility and are easily integrated into the building’s design, thus providing a high level of flexibility and resiliency in power provision. At the same time, such buildings are flexible enough to allow for future expansion, so that contractors and developers are not limited by which organizations can rent or sell the space.

This is important because existing and upcoming carbon emission regulations require that new commercial buildings be designed and built with carbon reduction technologies. For many buildings, that means the integration of renewable energy technologies. But while rooftop solar arrays and wind-based generators can help reduce a building’s carbon footprint significantly, architects and engineers need to go further by including systems that can store renewable-generated power for off-hours use or when the grid uses fossil fuels. Currently, provisions for energy storage systems are slowly being added to new building designs, But this storage system isn’t the best, cheapest, safest, or most efficient method of storing power. 

thermal energy storage, renewable energy
Nostromo’s IceBrick system installed at the Beverly Hills Hilton. (Photo: Nostromo)


The Case For Thermal Energy Storage

Thermal energy storage — storing energy as ice or heat — allows excess energy to be stored and used at a later time. It is a tried and true way of ensuring that renewable-generated energy is available long after the sun sets. These units are especially appropriate for heating and cooling systems, which require more energy to operate, and are needed throughout the day. In fact, according to government data, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are responsible for some  40% of all energy usage in buildings. 

Thermal energy storage units are now flexible and can be easily integrated into a wide variety of designs, making them ideal for buildings. One of the key advantages of modular thermal energy storage is their ability to integrate seamlessly into a building’s design to manage the full building load. 

As regulators increase their scrutiny of practices that generate carbon, it makes sense for architects and engineers to incorporate technologies that can work together while also targeting specific needs in building design. 

Regulations Only Get Us So Far

Using targeted approaches geared to specific needs can increase efficiency and save money; thermal systems, with their greater storage capacities, are the logical choice for cooling systems, which have greater energy requirements. As these systems can be easily designed for load demand, architects and engineers that incorporate thermal energy storage into their plans can guarantee that the system’s capacity can handle the true building load after it is built. 

Thermal energy storage also contributes significantly to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) points, increasing a building’s prestige. LEED certification is highly regarded in the construction industry, demonstrating a building’s commitment to sustainability and resilience. 

thermal energy storage, renewable energy
An engineer oversees the installation of the IceBrick thermal energy solution. (Photo: Nostromo)

Additionally, by incorporating modular thermal energy storage into their designs, architects and engineers can enhance their reputation, showcasing their commitment to creating environmentally conscious and energy-efficient buildings. Those who integrate these systems into their designs are not only saving the developers time and money, they are putting themselves at the cutting edge of modern design, securing for themselves a niche as experts in an area that is set for explosive growth in the coming years. 

From an engineering perspective, incorporating thermal energy storage provides several advantages. In the past, engineers had to build in a large safety factor to account for potential fluctuations in the building’s load. However, today, mechanical engineers can accurately gauge the system’s capacity to handle the building’s true load after construction. With modular thermal energy storage, the system’s capacity can be easily increased or decreased as needed, adapting to the building’s true load profile. This not only ensures optimal performance, but also reduces unnecessary oversizing, leading to cost savings and increased efficiency.

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Technologies At Forefront Of Fight Against Climate Change

As the world becomes increasingly focused on issues such as a building’s operational carbon emissions, it is crucial to adopt technologies that can work together to address these concerns. 

The adoption of thermal energy storage not only provides practical benefits in terms of load management and cost reduction, but also contributes to sustainability goals and enhances the building’s overall prestige. These are crucial steps to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable and resilient built environment.

Douglas Poffinbarger is Director of Commercial Operations at Nostromo Energy.

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