By Colleen O’Shea, President, Greener Arena Solutions Inc.

Lotte Schlegel, the Executive Director for the Institute for Market Transformation, declared this decade a “Decade of Action” and I couldn’t agree more. She says we need to “embrace disruption and put our buildings to work to address the urgent challenges of the 21st century.” In the world of indoor ice sports, Schlegel’s challenge means looking at all facets of operations hard in the face to see if there are better, more cost-effective ways to run them and still make great ice.

The good news is there are!

This week I hosted a Lunch and Learn in Calgary, Alberta for 40 influencers and decision makers on energy- and resource-efficiencies in indoor ice arenas. Most of these folks in attendance were engineers who work on energy audits for some of the 200+ indoor arenas in Alberta — and beyond. Another dozen were hand-picked arena/facilities/infrastructure managers who are committed to making their arenas more efficient, or are well on their way to doing so.

The event was called “A #2020Vision on Arenas” and, aligning with the 80/20 rule, 80% of the folks invited accepted the invitation and actually showed up. The venue was WinSport’s Markin MacPhail Centre, a LEED-certified Silver building that houses four arenas, an indoor luge track and training facilities used by some of Canada’s high-performance athletes. It’s also the home of Hockey Canada – the governing body for ice hockey in Canada, located at the base of the mountain that hosted many events during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

In Canada, the majority of the 3,300 indoor ice arenas are owned by municipalities. Many of these are seasonal facilities following the hockey schedule — opening in September and closing by the end of March every year — but many stay open longer or even year round, offering spring hockey and camps in the summer. Many older arenas are single pad facilities with ice sports being the sole purpose.

Single or multi-pad, seasonal or year round, most of these facilities have one thing in common. Arenas are often the municipality’s second-highest expense item in the annual budgets — following closely behind salaries. Many of them were built in the 1960s — an era when operations costs were low and electricity was cheap.

That isn’t the case today.

The seven vendors who presented to the crowd offer solutions that are, in the least, innovative and cost-effective to others that are disruptive and game changing:

All the companies that presented offer solutions that will reduce costs waste, or, in the case of Swirltex’s wastewater reclaim system, turn a lagoon into a revenue stream (pardon the pun).

The LED lighting at WinSport was supplied by Switch Lighting from Calgary, AB

Switch Lighting from Calgary, AB is a 7-year-old LED lighting specialist supplier – with competitively priced, factory-direct sourced lighting. Some of their product line is purpose-built, and, frankly, genius, designed by Switch’s Technical Director, Richard Webber, a leading expert on LED technology.

That includes a 95 Watt UFO style high bay light that is NSF food-grade rated and has an IP rating of 69 that produces a whopping 17,000 lumens — perfect for arenas, swimming pools, gymnasiums and tennis courts. They’re also bringing to market an LED pot light in various sizes that provides three different CCT colour settings and three different wattage power settings with an input power range of 100-347VAC. It’s a very clever product, marrying basically 32 different products into one SKU.

The company’s rigorous sourcing policy means layers of middlemen are left out, so prices are reasonable and the quality is top notch. Any fails are covered with an unlimited, no questions asked 5-year warranty, and Switch’s longevity in a market flooded with poor-quality lights supplied by quick gain, fly-by-night suppliers gives the confidence a municipality should be looking for when replacing their costly metal halide or fluorescent lights with cost-effective, quick ROI LED lights.

Rolling out Hack-to-Hack’s custom printed, reusable sheets at a curling rink in Norway

The patented re-usable sheets from Hack-to-Hack Solution (for curling rinks) and Goal-to-Goal Solution (for arenas) eliminates the clean-up from ice paint from making its way into the storm drains, the grass or dirt behind an arena or even into nearby rivers. The Thorhild, AB company’s custom mesh sheets dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to get the ice in, pre-printed with everything you would use ice paint for — lines, logos and creases. And at the end of the season the, sheets are rolled back up and put into storage until the next season begins.

The sheets are an energy saver, too. Owner Kevin Grumetza says customers are able to run their ice warmer, lowering the run time of compressors, reducing the facility’s electricity spend. Although the adoption of the sheets by ice arenas has been slower than expected, it’s been fast for curling clubs with installations totalling close to 1,000 sheets around the world. It not just eliminating ice paint, it’s cutting the ice making time from as much as three weeks down to a couple of days. Grumetza says they can typically start rolling out the sheets first thing on Friday morning and be throwing rocks the next day.

“Arenas are more complicated, needing a total of 12 sheets to cover an NHL-sized surface compared to just one per curling sheet,” Grumetza admits. “After all, an ice rink is a very big surface. But these sheets will still reduce the time it takes to put the ice in. And they’re reusable — and ice paint isn’t.”

“The old, traditional way that curling clubs and arenas are making ice needs to change for many reasons — cost reduction, energy savings and the environment,” says Grumetza. “With our solution, they’ll stop washing their money down the drain, and make ice sports a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly sport.” 

“Arenas can’t afford to keep heating their floodwater,” says Håkan Gronlünd, CEO of H2OVortex

REALice’s water treatment technology is replacing hot water flooding around the world. The patented Vortex Process Technology was developed in Sweden and uses pressure instead of temperature to remove the micro-air bubbles from the water. That results in water with properties that more closely mimic water that’s been heated, but without the expense of heating.

In addition to saving energy from not heating the water, the resulting ice requires a warmer ice temperature to assure high-quality ice. That means a big reduction in compressor run time, reducing electric consumption in addition to pushing out maintenance intervals.

Håkan Gronlünd, the CEO of H2OVortex says with over 500 installations worldwide, REALice is a disruptor that will become a standard.

“Arenas can’t afford to keep heating their floodwater,” Gronlünd says. “REALice is maintenance-free and expected to last for 25 years or more, continually reducing an arena’s energy spend, year after year. It’s a fast ROI, eligible for incentives through many public utilities — it’s really a ‘no brainer’! And our users rave about the quality of their ice.”

Guest Automation’s energy management system for ice arenas is reducing an arena’s energy spend with an open source and open protocol solution

Guest Automation’s Intelligent Rinks Division uses open-source and open protocol programming to bring the operation of ALL of an arena’s refrigeration, dehumidification and mechanical equipment together in a web-based energy management program. It effectively manages energy use and warnings — including alerts on CO, CO2 and ammonia levels – indicators that prevent injuries and save lives. CEO Brodie Guest says Guest’s energy management system has an installed base of over 100 in 8 Canadian provinces and 7 US states. Customers of interest include Canlan Ice Sports – the largest private sector owner and operator of recreational ice sports facilities in North America — as well as the NHL’s Dallas Starswho are implementing the controls into all their rinks.

CEO Brodie Guest says open protocol means they can talk to virtually any device out there — lighting panels, compressors, Trane chillers — any sort of device out there.

“What we provide is a custom solution for the ice rink industry, but it’s vendor neutral — I think those are the keywords here,” Guest says. “We understand the game of hockey and will never sacrifice ice quality, but you don’t need to turn on your whole plant at once – hard. The importance is integrating the whole facility and optimizing it.” Guest’s customers are often running just one compressor each day, even for a three-pad facility, saving from thousands to hundreds of thousands of kWh per year, depending on the size of the facility, reducing their consumption by up to 40%.

An Ice3 installation

The Ice3 refrigeration system is comprised of modified heat pumps that produce heating and cooling at the same time. Manufactured by Emerald Environmental Technologies out of Holderness, NH, the “Cubes” were presented by Jeff Daniels of Daniels Heating & Refrigeration from Edmonton, Alberta.

“The Cubes use a small charge of R410a – not ammonia or CO2,” Daniels says. “They’re modular, so you can add to them as you need or as budgets open up — they’re quiet and the stainless steel cabinets are small enough to fit through a standard door. They can be stacked, too, so they require less space in a mechanical room. They’re practically maintenance free, and can provide radiant heating throughout the building — or nearby buildings too.” Daniels says the Cubes eliminate the need for a T1 mechanical room and have a net-zero capability.

“One of the biggest advantages is the Cubes have no manufacturer-specific parts. If you need to get something replaced, you’ll be able to get it from your local refrigeration wholesaler. This means you’re not at the mercy of other people’s timelines which is a big advantage when something goes wrong. And for seasonal rinks, the Cubes give you the ability to warm the floor, making it comfortable for trade shows or other dry floor events.”

“I’m really excited of how the Cubes work, and work so well. They’re a big step away from traditional refrigeration, but with a small footprint. They’re being used at some great installations, like the community centre in Port Hawkesbury, NS and by Division I NCAA Hockey at Boston College. They’re a brilliant, efficient solution for ice rinks.”

Alberta company Sprung Structures provides energy-efficient brick-and-mortar alternatives to a wide variety of applications, including indoor ice arenas

Sprung Structures is a family-owned company that’s producing alternatives to brick-and-mortar buildings with its engineered membrane buildings. The 133-year old Alberta company got its start supplying covers for wagons and today focuses on rapid-build, durable structures that reduce maintenance costs considerably. Their long list of customers is impressive and includes NASA, the US Military, SpaceX, Tesla and both Super Bowl LIV finalists, the San Fransisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

For recreation facilities, Sprung’s solutions are flexible and cost-efficient. The indoor arenas are built up to an R-value of 30 so heat loss (or gain) is not an issue; the fabric membranes cushion the noise of the game — it still sounds like hockey but a bit less harsh. And the interior is light and bright, delivering an optimal playing environment.

David Findlay, Sprung’s Senior Business Development Manager, says they have the ability to produce single pads, twin pads or multipurpose facilities.

“Our structures are energy-efficient and extremely versatile,” Findlay explains. “The building costs are less than traditional brick and mortar and the operational costs are minimal, too. You can have everything you’d want in a traditional arena, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional build and with a build time measured in days or weeks instead of years.”

When the ice from the snow melt pit or the water from the showers and toilets make it down the drain, Swirtexgives municipalities the technology they need to reclaim the wastewater. That reclaimed water can be used for a variety of purposes — from agriculture to oil and gas, replacing expensive potable or fresh water with grey water — at a fraction of the cost.

“What we’ve developed is a new approach to filtration,” says Swirltex’s CEO, Peter Christou. “Our membrane system separates the solids from the liquids based on buoyancy, treating a wide range of wastewater types that would otherwise not be re-usable. It’s all about the power of poo!,” he quips.

Christou says the Alberta-based company’s solution is also being used for water re-use in oil and gas extraction wells.

“The water produced from oil and gas extraction wells is becoming a growing issue in North America. There’s an increasing demand for treatment alternatives that allow for the re-use of this water as a more environmental alternative to deep well injection. We’re able to get the total suspended solids and oil levels down to below <5 ppm. That means the water can be reused for frac operations, reducing the fresh water consumption and minimizing deep well injection.”

If you would like any more information on any of these solutions, or if you would like help to organize a similar lunch and learn for engineers, arena managers and facility planners in your province or state, please reach out to me.