New ice system saves arenas big bucks

An innovative energy-saving ice-making system that the Cowichan Valley Regional District has been trying out at arenas in Duncan and Mill Bay this year received rave reviews from icemakers and users alike.

The REALice system, which promises to save money and energy by reducing electricity and gas usage, has been employed at the Island Savings Centre and Kerry Park Arenas over the last four months, using unique technology to remove air bubbles from water.

The traditional resurfacing process involves pre-heating the water to remove tiny air bubbles so it will freeze harder and stronger. Instead of heat, the REALice process spins the water in a whirpool-like vortex, forcing the bubbles to be sucked out of the water. The results have impressed everyone so far.

"I was a skeptic at first, as it goes against all we are taught as icemakers using cold water only," Island Savings Centre facility operations coordinator Brad Coleman said. "After switching and witnessing results first hand and listening to user comments, I’m now convinced that this technology is the right choice for us."

The CVRD arenas are resurfaced as many as 2,400 times every hockey season, with more than 400 litres of water used each time. Further benefits from REALice include less work on the refrigeration plant to freeze the water, higher brine temperatures, and less energy required to dehumidify the arena. That adds up to more than $8,000 annual savings at each arena and a reduction of 35 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

The resulting ice proved to be clear, hard and strong, and none of the user groups, including the Cowichan Valley Capitals and Kerry Park Islanders junior hockey teams, had any complaints. "Our staff and users are completely satisfied with the switch," Kerry Park facility operations coordinator Tony Liddle said. "In fact, if we hadn’t told users about it, they wouldn’t even have noticed the change. On top of that, we are already seeing reductions in our gas and electricity usage."

According to the REALice website, more than 250 arenas around the world are using the system, including the Malmö Arena in Sweden, which hosted the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championships, the Hartwall Arena in Finland, which hosted the 2013 World Championships, and the Ice Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, the home of the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg.

Other arena operators in the Cowichan Valley have been keeping an eye on the project.

"The results of cost savings while keeping good ice is the breakthrough that will positively impact all arena ice facilities," said Ernie Mansueti, director of parks and recreation for North Cowichan, which owns Fuller Lake Arena.

Rob Frost, who oversees ice-making at the Cowichan Lake Sports Arena, added that his facility will also consider REALice after the data from the Island Savings Centre and Kerry Park are analyzed.