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More ice rinks switch approach to refrigeration in drive to cut energy and running costs

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Ice rinks across the UK are switching to a new approach to refrigeration in a drive to cut energy bills and reduce running costs. It is saving end users thousands of pounds a month in energy costs and helping to transform the economics of skating rinks.

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The new approach, devised by refrigeration contractor G&O Refrigeration with help from Bitzer UK, can cut rink energy bills by more than 50per cent compared with traditional refrigeration approaches.It uses the innovative Gorac refrigeration pack in a system that captures waste heat and harnesses it for use in space heating for offices and leisure areas, and for the provision of sanitary hot water for the building.

Gorac packs are based on inverter-driven Bitzer CSVH screw compressors, which prior to G&O Refrigeration’s involvement had never been used in ice rinks. The integrated inverter finely controls the speed of the compressor to match cooling output to the current load.

The first Gorac pack was installed at Milton Keynes ice rink two years ago. Energy monitoring before and after has confirmed savings of more than 50per cent compared with the previous system.

Since then, the company has installed 18 Gorac packs in ice rinks across the country, including in Hemel Hempstead, Swindon, Cardiff, Inverness and Romford. In its latest contract, G&O has secured a project to install Gorac packs at a rink in Slough. The new technology is being used to replace aging refrigeration systems running on HFCs or ammonia, as well as in new rinks, helping transform their profitability.

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James Ogden, director of G&O Refrigeration, says: “The energy required to create and maintain an ice pad is one of the most important elements in rink running costs. Therefore, reducing refrigeration energy usage and making use of waste heat can have a big impact on overall costs, and the economics of rink operation.”

In addition to inverter-controlled compressors, Gorac rink systems have inverter drives on condenser fans to vary their speed according to load, and inverters on pumps used on the glycol cooling circuit.

Since the first Gorac pack was installed, a number of innovations have been implemented, making the system even more efficient and cost-effective. For example, the pack is now being used as a chilled water source to augment the building’s air conditioning.

This is made possible because rink chillers are only on peak demand for relatively short periods, when refrigerating the ice pad. Once this is complete, they can be harnessed to contribute to the building’s air conditioning requirements.

In the case of the latest rink project, this will enable the number of chillers required for air conditioning to be reduced from four to three, with a so-called “swing” rink chiller assigned to double up across both rink and air conditioning duties, saving on capital cost.

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A further innovation is the use a desuperheater to reclaim high grade energy from the system’s hot gas side. This uses a dedicated compact BPHE heat exchanger to recover heat from hot gas at 73deg C, and produce water at 60deg C for use in the domestic supply.

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“This not only provides the end user with ‘free’ hot water, it further improves the efficiency of the refrigeration system. So it is a virtuous circle. We are even harnessing the hot water feed from this as an energy source to melt the frost build-up in the rink’s snow pit, as a result of routine skimming of the ice surface.”Hot water can also be used for space heating the building, by feeding into air on-site handling units.

Importantly, Gorac packs have built-in web connectivity, enabling users and maintenance staff to control and monitor the system from anywhere via a smart-phone, tablet or PC. This gives access to historical performance data and current operating conditions, with the ability to check alarm status and alter set-points.

“This transparency and traceability is vital for rink operators, as they need access to data on historical rink conditions in the event of insurance claims resulting from alleged problems with the state of the ice pad.”

James Ogden, director and co-founder of G&O Refrigeration, has a unique insight into the requirements for ice rinks, as for many years he played ice hockey for Milton Keynes. There is also a wider family connection, as his sister was a professional skater in the television series, Dancing on Ice.

He has used his knowledge of the sport combined with his experience in refrigeration to design this new approach that is now taking off among UK ice rink operators.

The company is now attracting the attention of overseas ice rink companies, and is involved in supporting projects taking place in mainland Europe.

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Kevin Glass, managing director of Bitzer UK, said: “The rapid adoption of the Bitzer-based Gorac pack by ice rinks across the UK is testimony to the success of the design and the quality approach adopted by G&O. The energy savings speak for themselves.

“We at Bitzer UK are proud to be associated with this innovation which, given the popularity of ice skating, we believe has huge potential world-wide. Not for the first time, a British refrigeration innovation based on fresh-thinking and a can-do approach looks set to be a world-beater.”