ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In 1907 when the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company announced that it would build a skyscraper on Manhattan's Madison Square, it was going to be the tallest structure of its kind in the world, and no air conditioning. It's because air conditioning haven't been invented yet. So it somehow fitting that the current occupants of the MetLife Tower have found, if not a substitute for air conditioning, a clever low-tech supplement for it. They use ice.
Credit Suisse occupies most of the building today, and William Beck is head of critical engineering systems for the company. And, Mr. Beck, what have you got in the basement there?
Mr. WILLIAM BECK (Managing Director, Critical Engineering Systems, Credit Suisse): Well, we've put in 64 ice storage tanks. Also, we have a chiller plant that's supplemented by the ice storage. It makes up about 33 percent of the plant that we've got in the facility.
SIEGEL: So you have these huge tanks that are full of water that you freeze?
Mr. BECK: Well, yes. In short, yes. It's a combination of glycol solution, but yes.
SIEGEL: And you do this overnight?
Mr. BECK: Yes. We go on the - what they call the off-peak, which is at the nighttime hours. And we create the ice during that period of time. And then during the day, during the peak hours, we burn off the ice and supplement the refrigeration system, the cooling systems to the building.
SIEGEL: So when people come to work in the day at the building - overnight, the building has been making enormous ice cubes downstairs, and then, that cold is piped up through the building during the day?
Mr. BECK: That's correct.
SIEGEL: How much does this save you?
Mr. BECK: It saves approximately, depending on the cost of energy, of course, but it saves approximately a million dollars a year.
SIEGEL: Now, as somebody who works in a building where - I wouldn't say we complain everyday - but climate-controlled is not the strongest suit of our building here, do you find that you get complaints from folks in the building? Or are they happy with the building?
Mr. BECK: No, it's a completely seamless operation. The way it's been integrated into the design of the building, no one would ever know the difference.
SIEGEL: Where did you get this technology from? Is this something out of the past or do buildings in other countries do this? Or…
Mr. BECK: No. It's actually an old technology. It's been around for decades.
SIEGEL: Can you open the windows in the building upstairs in the MetLife Tower or no?
Mr. BECK: No.
SIEGEL: No. How would that affect cooling of the building if people could, you know…
MR. BECK: What if they open up the windows?
SIEGEL: …let a little bit of air in, yeah. Yeah.
Mr. BECK: Well, no. We have outside air, already. We have systems that are pull in outside air. Because you need a certain percentage of outside air just to make sure that you'd have a climatized environment. So, you know, I mean, if you would open up windows, you would actually cause a lot of problems with the air-conditioning systems in the building. They'd fight each other.
SIEGEL: Now, I can imagine that if all the buildings in Manhattan started doing this, pretty soon the off-peak rates for electricity overnight, Con Ed might decide to increase the rates for off-peak rates…
Mr. BECK: No, actually, what would happen is the on-peak rates would go down. There is an abundance of energy on the off-peak hours. If the plants were to run continuously, there is an abundance of energy on the off-peak hours, which is why the cost is cheaper because there's more energy available.
SIEGEL: Mm-hmm. So it would check out if everybody went and did this and…
Mr. BECK: Absolutely. The greatest profile you could create is a flat profile.
SIEGEL: Now, all this is about cooling a building. What about heating the building in the winter?
Mr. BECK: Believe it or not, we don't have a huge demand for heating because of the actual thermal gain of the building. This building is fairly self-sustaining when it comes to heating the building.
SIEGEL: Just get inside the building and you're warm for that reason?
Mr. BECK: Yes. Yes.
SIEGEL: The much bigger challenge is cooling?
Mr. BECK: Absolutely.
SIEGEL: Well, that is William Beck who's head of critical engineering systems for Credit Suisse, which has installed this cooling system at its facility on Madison Square in Manhattan. Mr. Beck, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BECK: Thank you, Robert. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss it with you.