Solar-Powered Skating Rink: The Journey Continues

Last spring, engineers at Singapore-based Sun Ice Energy were busy constructing an ice rink 100% powered by solar panels with the goal of significantly reducing the energy costs. That proof-of- concept rink went live last November, and after several months of testing, all indications are that the simulation is meeting all objectives.

This story was featured in the March 2024 issue of SKATING magazine. Click here to purchase a subscription.

Above: Sun Ice Energy's patented floor units, which contain phase change material, are being covered by concrete as part of the construction of the proof of concept rink.

By Ed Rabinowitz

Last spring, engineers at Singapore-based Sun Ice Energy were busy constructing a 5-meter by 5-meter ice skating rink (See the June/July 2023 issue of SKATING magazine). The scaled-down rink is the company’s proof of concept, 100% powered by solar panels and built to the same specifications as a standard-sized rink with the goal of significantly reducing the energy costs for skating rinks. 

Jacques Mouchet headshot. Mouchet is an older man wearing a white collared shirt and red tie with a red lanyard
Jacques Mouchet

The technology behind the company’s groundbreaking project is built around Phase Change Material, an organic substance that releases and absorbs enough energy to provide useful heating and cooling during a phase change, for example, when a liquid is frozen and then melts. The melting, or change that takes place, results in energy transfer at a constant and stable temperature, which is captured by the system to cool an environment. The solution has a lifespan of 50 years and costs 20 times less than batteries over its life cycle.

 “PCM has been around for a long time, but nobody ever thought about using it for an ice skating rink,” Mouchet says. “We’ve solved that problem.”

In a nutshell, panels on a skating rink’s roof capture the sun’s energy, which is transferred to a standard hybrid inverter. That energy is used to power a standard rink chiller that cools the glycol solution — 50% water and 50% glycol — before transferring the solution to a network of pipes in close contact with large, plastic, rectangular — and patented — containers four inches thick. The containers are laid inside the ice rink floor, between an insulating material XPS layer and the concrete floor supporting the ice sheet.

When solar panels are placed across the entire roof of a skating arena, less than half of that power is required to charge the Sun Ice PCM system. With roughly three hours of sun per day, the energy that is produced is stored to maintain the desired latent temperature of the PCM. The stored PCM-stable temperature in the containers will last for several days without having to be recharged.

That proof-of- concept rink went live last November, and after several months of testing, all indications are that the simulation is meeting all objectives.

 “We’ve spent the last couple of months understanding the power requirements to freeze the rink, from an initial setup to daily requirements, so everything can be optimized,” Michael Saddler, global sales manager for Sun Ice, said.

Glycol cooling pipes charge the system.
Glycol cooling pipes charge the system.  

The three months of testing have been aimed at quantifying the technology.

 “We want to be able to say, for example, with a full frozen rink and two hours of power per day, it will stay in perfect condition for five days. Or with three hours of power it goes to eight days,” Saddler said. “We already know it works beautifully, but we want those data points.”

Two anecdotal points to date, explained Jacques Mouchet, president and founder of Sun Ice, are that when the power is turned off on a normal rink’s cooling system, the temperature immediately starts to rise, and the ice melts pretty quickly.

 “For ours, we turned it off, there was a slight rise in temperature, then it went back to normal,” Mouchet said. “Twelve hours later the ice was still in perfect condition.”

“Secondly, within 30 minutes we can change the temperature of the ice to accommodate either ice hockey or ice skating practitioners, who require different ice temperatures. A traditional rink cannot do this, so our technology is pretty exciting for rink operators.”

The positive applications of the Sun Ice technology are widespread. For example, the company recently applied the same technology for hospitality villas in Bali, Indonesia. The result was being able to provide off-grid air conditioning with more than 50% extra solar power generated for other uses.

In addition, Mouchet and Saddler recently returned from the World Economic Forum in San Francisco, California, a new initiative to kick-start the city and bring people back. Sun Ice was named one of 14 top innovators out of more than 200 candidates and was able to showcase its technology. As a result, the company has been invited to set up headquarters for its U.S. operation in San Francisco.

 “We’ve seen a lot of interest from people who pay the electricity bills,” Saddler said. “Those who are developing the hotels and ice skating rinks are really keen to talk to us.”

And Saddler and Mouchet want to talk with them, too.

“We’d love to hear from people in the U.S., especially those in the Sun Belt who want to build an ice skating rink, or any type of well-insulated accommodation or building,” Saddler said. “And especially those who pay the bills, because electricity is one of the first priorities.”

What’s next?

 “An Olympic-sized ice skating rink will be the next build for us using this technology,” Saddler said. “We’re at the start of this journey.”

Stay tuned.