Air Conditioning Power from the Sun
"The Sun is hot, how could it cool?!!"
To that, we say,
“We have no idea. Do we look like scientists?”
What we do know, is that, as counterintuitive as it sounds, you can get air conditioning from solar energy.
The most obvious way for the Sun to produce cold air is by using photovoltaic panels to produce electricity and power an air conditioner. In fact, that's what many homeowners in America are starting to do.
Thanks to a variety of clean and renewable energy initiatives passed by Congress, utility companies have major incentives, both positive and negative, to promote solar energy technologies. One way they do this is through energy purchasing contracts with individual homeowners.
Basically, many utility companies will buy solar energy from customers with solar panels on their home. In a lot of cases, the solar cells won't even connect to the owner's house, the juice will go directly into the grid.
That's one way, albeit an indirect one, that Sun creates air conditioning.
Solar Open Loop Air Conditioning Using Desiccants
Photovoltaic cell technology isn't the only way folks are using the Sun to power HVAC systems. There are others, and the very complex-sounding method we mention in the subtitle is just that.
Have you ever seen the silica gel packets in stuff that say, “DO NOT EAT!”
If you have, you've seen a desiccant. They're substances used to keep things dry. In solar open loop air conditioning, desiccants like silica gel are key for effective evaporative cooling. The desiccant draws moisture from the air, are regenerated via solar thermal energy, and a PV system keeps a fan blowing.
The technology isn't yet a wholesale solutions cheap or effective as a regular air conditioner or heat pump cycling, but it's advancing steadily.
Passive Solar Cooling
There are plenty of passive solar cooling systems, but the name's a little misleading. They don't really use solar energy to cool. Instead, they used architecture and an understanding of thermodynamics to avoid heat saturation.
Here are a few examples:
- High ceilings
- Wide eaves or overhangs on the south side of buildings
- Using tree shade to block direct sunlight
- Eliminating or minimizing west-facing windows and doors
- Passive stack ventilation
Needless to say, there are a lot of passive solar cooling (and heating) methods. In fact, a few are among the oldest HVAC systems in human history.
Why all the emphasis on solar cooling?
There's definitely been rising interest in solar cooling in the last few years, and there are really good reasons for it.
Contrary to what some would have you believe, there are centuries of fossil fuel resources left on the planet. We’re not going to run out anytime soon.
Yet, energy prices keep going up. Why?
It has less to do with supply, and more to do with demand. Traditionally, America and the West have been the world's biggest energy users. This is still the case, but it's a changing situation. Everyone knows China is using more and more energy, but so is India, Indonesia, Brazil, Eastern Europe, and all of Africa.
There's a limited supply of fossil fuels to meet the growing demand. On the other hand, sunlight is free and effectively inexhaustible. Not to mention that solar energy can’t be affected by economic disruption in other countries due to war, famine, plague, or simply politicians being persnickety.
It's a renewable resource that will always be here.
Unless, of course, the Sun explodes, but that's a different problem altogether.
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