India is well-positioned to conduct a technological leap to district cooling: Thermalfrost

While providing an in-depth assessment of the District Energy market in India and abroad, Steve Donaldson, President and CEO, Thermalfrost Intl. speaks to Ranjana Konatt, Editor (Brand Positioning), on the scope for growth, bottlenecks, the role of schemes, and the many opportunities to invest in India.


How do you read the market for District Cooling solutions in Canada, what are the shifts in terms of the solutions offered by the company; How are the solutions likely to bring about change as Thermalfrost sets its gaze on the market in India?

 District Cooling solutions are growing ever more popular in Canada, and North America overall, as the increased efficiency and sustainability of District Cooling solutions are more clearly understood. In effect, the District Cooling market is a growing opportunity in Canada. However, District Cooling solutions have markedly more opportunity for growth in a country like India, due to several factors. First, India has not invested substantive resources on interconnecting grid infrastructure between major cities, rural towns and smaller communities (as we have in Canada). This means that India is well-positioned to conduct a technological leap to District Cooling, as they do not need to rely on existing (and expensive) interconnecting grid infrastructure as we do in Canada. This phenomenon is similar to cell phones in developing countries in Asia. Rather than investing substantive resources in telecommunications infrastructure, many countries were able to transition directly to wireless solutions. In this respect, India is a huge market opportunity for adopting District Cooling solutions in the near term. As such, Thermalfrost District Cooling technology is well-suited for immediate adoption throughout India as we enter the market in 2020.

The main advantage of Distributed Energy, such as District Energy, is that it facilitates the harnessing of waste heat for re-use.  The vast majority of the world’s energy consumption is lost in the form of waste heat, and Distributed Energy facilitates our ability to harness and repurpose this heat reducing these energy losses.

Elaborate on the importance of government policy and regulation within the scope of District Cooling; what is the scene like in Canada, also could you compare it with India? 

Private industry is naturally guided by public policy. Activities in the private sector can be qualitatively enabled by sound public policy. Canadian public institutions and policymakers have been key enablers for private sector companies offering District Cooling solutions, as Canada strives to adopt reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions standards as delineated in the Paris Agreement 2016. The important work on climate change and the resultant technological changes must be shared by both public and private stakeholders. Public policy must set the conditions within which private industry can offer technological solutions, and private industry must conduct the research and development necessary to generate and commercialize those technological solutions. It is a shared responsibility, which is working very well in Canada. Based on our analysis and in-country engagement in India over the last several years, India is indeed well-positioned to rapidly adopt emergent technological solutions offering District Cooling. It is incumbent on private entities such as Thermalfrost to continue to directly engage India government policymakers to ensure they are informed of the latest technological solutions that are available on the market. This is a symbiotic relationship in India between companies like Thermalfrost and India policymakers and a relationship that is working very well. Thermalfrost has established and will continue to nurture our relationships within the Government of India, both at the Federal and State levels.  

Talk about absorption chiller technology by Thermalfrost, the aspect of it using zero green-house gas in the compressors you operate; Could you also talk on the kind of refrigerant used… 

The primary difference between conventional chillers and absorption chillers is that conventional chillers are electro-mechanical (and use large amounts of electricity) whereas absorption chillers use a chemical process and require only a nominal amount of electricity (for a circulation pump). As such, conventional chillers produce extensive greenhouse gases (GHGs) whereas absorption chillers such as the chillers offered by Thermalfrost greatly reduce GHG emissions since they are driven by waste heat or heat from renewable sources. The operating cost of a Thermalfrost chiller can be 1/10th that of a conventional chiller. The savings in electricity are substantial – as are the reductions in GHGs. Contrasting with many existing refrigerants, that often have GHG factors more than 1000 times that of CO2, Thermalfrost’s refrigerant, NH3, has zero GHGs and Global Warming Potential.

Compared to competing for thermal chiller solutions, Thermalfrost advantage is to efficiently refrigerate and freeze as we are not restricted to cooling temperatures above 5°C.

Do you foresee India as a market wherein District Cooling could be effectively used in the future? Even though it is not a need per-say, what are the corresponding adjustments that will have to be made to the technology you offer to suit the climate and other environmental conditions.  

India presents huge opportunities for District Cooling applications. India has not invested heavily in electrical grid infrastructure compared to other countries, which presents India an advantage as they adopt District Cooling applications. This is because India does not have to incorporate future cooling applications to an existing, expensive grid infrastructure – in effect, India can choose to adopt District Cooling applications here and when it wants throughout the country. India has flexibility during this process. Further, the Government of India is very progressive and a fast adopter of new technologies and innovative solutions.

Modifications of our technology for the Indian marketplace mostly have to do with a system integrating the many promising technologies your country has already commercialized, with our own.  These technologies include biomass power generation facilities that contain stubble burn where Thermalfrost harnesses the waste heat to provide cooling.  We are also excited to be integrating with some very interesting made-in-India solutions that allow us to solidify the food cold chain right from the farmer’s gate.

In terms of installation capacity, the design of conventional mechanical cooling systems, could you elaborate on how district cooling requires more in terms of urban planning – how crucial is stakeholder engagement, especially among the public and private sector – developers, consultants, contractors and technology providers to ensure efficient plant design and operations that are in place? 

May I just say “crucial”?  Successful implementation requires unbroken cooperation among all these stakeholders.  Presently Thermalfrost is engaged with many such players to ensure that all aspects of the delivery model are provided seamlessly.  Developers need to understand the economic benefits of district cooling, and that it not only reduces operating expenses but for many installations it also reduces capital expenditures.  Consultants undertake energy audits for end-users in order to recommend optimized solutions.  As alluded to earlier, system integration spearheaded by contractors is a key component to successful implementation.  On their own, Thermalfrost chillers are not a solution so we to align with many exciting Indian technology providers to bring a holistic solution to your marketplace.

Talk to us on the projects you are involved within India; what are the environmental stressors, the nature of challenges that have presented itself, and how have you dealt with it?

Thermalfrost has several planned demonstrations in India in 2020. These demonstration sites will address various sectors, including District Cooling, Agriculture and Food Cold Chain. Solar, Biomass and Waste Heat Recovery are heat sources for these demonstrations.  One progressive dairy farm is already collecting methane gas from cows used as cooking fuel for members of their community.  They will now divert more of the gases to drive a Thermalfrost chiller to cool the milk.  We have a couple of planned biomass demonstrations, one on a large scale where we provide cooling for industrial processes and another involving our small chillers which brings economical cooling for micro-grid and mini-grid applications.  Several of the demonstrations take advantage of Thermalfrost’s capability to freeze, where we can change the state of Phase Change Materials (like water into ice) to provide efficient Thermal Energy Storage.

What makes the District Energy schemes in Denmark so successful? Could you elaborate on the structure and mechanism that paved the way for their high penetration?  

The success story of District Energy in Denmark is the result of several factors. The first, overarching factor is a unified goal to move to cleaner energy solutions and a reduction on the reliance on fossil fuels. This future vision is shared between the public and private sector, and in the shared values of the Denmark population. The commonality of a future vision is critical in order to change our energy behaviour. Next, Denmark made substantial investments in District Energy infrastructure – this work began as far back as 1979 when Denmark adopted its first Heat Supply Act. The lesson for us here is that reduced reliance on fossil fuels and a shift towards cleaner energy takes time, and the collective will of all sectors of the country. The rapid adoption of District Energy (heating and cooling) leads to more efficient energy production, and savings can be reinvested into other sectors of the economy, including health care and education. The benefits of District Energy are not solely financial, but they can have a meaningful impact on other important sectors of society. Denmark is an excellent example of this innovation.

Broadly speaking, are you satisfied with the compliance of signatories on the reduction of HFCs specified in the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, especially in light of many countries have set their respective national targets? Where would you say there is more room for improvement?

Thermalfrost is thrilled with the Kigali Amendment, in that it builds on the Montreal Protocol beyond Ozone depletion to address GHG reductions.  Signatories are committing to phasing-out harmful refrigerants and replacing them with zero GHG emitting refrigerants such as that used by Thermalfrost.

What, if any, do you foresee as the main bottleneck concerning the penetration of District Energy? Could you comment on the work being done on thermal storage? How do you view its progress?

Barriers to adoption of District Energy generally depend on which country is being discussed. A barrier to District Energy in many developed countries is the existence of an extensive electrical grid. These countries (such as Canada) need to justify the billions they have invested in a centralized electrical grid, rather than adopt District Energy applications where energy consumption can be optimized. Just as they did in leap-frogging telecommunication infrastructure towards wireless networks, developing countries are in an excellent position to adopt distributed energy solutions, such as District Energy.  This harmonizes well with the integration of renewable energies such as geothermal, solar and biomass.  This is the space where Thermalfrost technology comes to the fore. Thermalfrost has commercialized small chillers suitable for these distributed applications.  Furthermore, Thermalfrost’s capability to offer Thermal Energy Storage addresses a major issue for distributed applications.  For example, when the sun is available, we make ice, and at night we can continue to provide air-conditioning from the energy stored in the ice.


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