New downtown “chiller plants” save money on A/C

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Providing air conditioning for large downtown buildings is not only expensive – it also takes up a lot of space. Now, Austin Energy is expanding its program that uses chilled water instead of traditional A/C units, saving valuable space for developers and money for anyone who buys electricity.

Here’s how it works:

Two chilling plants located downtown create ice at night, when energy is cheaper and more readily available.

During the day, the units pump the chilled water through a network of underground pipes Austin Energy is currently completing. Downtown buildings, either constructed to use or renovated to fit the system, can tap into the water lines by purchasing a contract with Austin Energy.

The buildings use the cold water to cool the air in the building — which Austin Energy says is a “greener” replacement for traditional air conditioning units.

“That’s less power we have to either produce or go buy,” Austin Energy Spokesman Carlos Cordova said. “That helps everyone save money and it also helps the environment.”

One chiller unit, set to go online in about a month, will provide A/C for customers in the Seaholm Development. 10 million square feet in downtown Austin already currently get their A/C from these chiller units, and Austin Energy plans to keep expanding the program

Austin Energy tells us this method of large-scale air conditioning is used in many major cities across the U-S.

In 2013, this system moved the amount of power that 15,000 households use from the hottest part of the day to the nighttime. This shift of power production timing saves money for anyone who buys electricity.

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