The UK’s ice rinks are experiencing something of a renaissance, resulting in an explosion of outdoor temporary rinks, a feature in many town centres over Christmas, and stimulating investment in new and refurbished permanent rinks.
The initiative is an unqualified success, based on a willingness to innovate and move beyond established ways of doing things
The energy required to create and maintain an ice pad is one of the most important elements in rink running costs.
James Ogden, director and 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.
His knowledge of the sport, combined with a solid grounding in refrigeration design and engineering, has led the contractor to develop a new high efficiency approach to refrigeration for ice rinks.
The innovation, devised by G&O Refrigeration with help from compressor specialist Bitzer UK, can halve cooling energy running costs compared with traditional refrigeration approaches, delivering savings for end users of thousands of pounds a month.
Having identified the need for a more efficient solution, G&O developed a new rink refrigeration plant called the Gorac chiller pack. Based on Bitzer CSVH compressors, it is designed to deliver exceptionally reliable cooling and significantly reduced energy costs.
“These twin requirements – reliability and efficiency - are absolutely vital for ice rinks,” says James Ogden. “The packs have to run 365 days a year. A refrigeration breakdown can be catastrophic for revenue, as it can take days for the ice to rebuild. Meanwhile, sporting fixtures may have to be cancelled and access for normal public use is unavailable.”
This was the reason the company selected Bitzer CSVH compressors to form the heart of its new approach to compressor pack design for rinks.
“The CSVH is a fairly recent addition to the Bitzer range, and is a very efficient, robust and reliable compact screw compressor. The key to its efficiency is an integral inverter, which precisely controls the speed of the motor in line with cooling demand.
“This, coupled with the proven reliability of the established CSH series, gave us confidence that it would deliver on both efficiency and reliability fronts,” he says.
In addition to a built-in frequency inverter, the compressor has on-board protection and monitoring sensors, magnetic valves for regulation and coolant injection, all in one pre-wired package.
The choice of compressor was something of a pioneering decision for G&O, as it was the first time Bitzer’s CSVH semi-hermetic had been used in an ice rink application.
The compressors operate on R134a, which is normally associated with medium temperature applications, such as commercial air conditioning. However, the performance envelope is surprisingly wide, and the company was attracted by the fact they can evaporate down to -17deg C, at a suction pressure of 0.5Bar.
The decision to incorporate the units on the company’s new Gorac rink pack has proved to be an unqualified success. A pack replacement project at Milton Keynes rink carried out by G&O has more than halved cooling energy costs.
The electricity bill with the previous system was £11,000 a month. Following replacement with the Gorac-Bitzer system, costs have fallen to between £4000-5000 a month. Subsequent projects have confirmed average savings of between 45-50 per cent.
“On the strength of the projects carried out to date, we believe it has the potential to transform the economics of skating rinks,” he says.
Following its success, the company has now produced 10 Gorac packs for use in rinks across the UK. In addition to Milton Keynes, they have been installed at rinks in Hemel Hempstead, Swindon and Cardiff. This latter project is the largest to date, with two ice pads on site. Further projects are under way.
The company is now attracting the attention of overseas ice rink operators, and is involved in supporting projects taking place in mainland Europe.
Kevin Glass, managing director of Bitzer UK, says: “The initiative is an unqualified success, based on a willingness to innovate and move beyond established ways of doing things.
“It reflects the excellent collaborative relationship between us and our contractor customer, and provides an excellent example of innovation through partnership, that could form a template for the industry to follow.”
*The innovation won the Refrigeration Project of the Year Award in the ACR Journal’s recent National ACR & Heat Pump Awards 2017.