Solar-powered Air-con to Save Power and Planet

New solar-powered residential air conditioning technology being developed at The Australian National University could soon spell relief for the many Australians sweltering this summer.

Dr Mike Dennis from the ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science is developing a new solar air-conditioning system that will alleviate the pressure on Australia’s aging electricity infrastructure and reduce the demand for power over summer. Dr Dennis believes that peak period power shortages are just around the corner for Australia, particularly in times of peak use in the hotter months. He said that the refrigerants in traditional air-conditioners units are also an environmental threat.

“The refrigerants circulating in these units are several thousand times more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide,” said Dr Dennis. “For every kilogram of refrigerant you have in your split-system, you’ve got two or three thousand kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent locked up – as much as the average car puts out in a year. There is a big question mark over what becomes of this refrigerant upon disposal of the air conditioner.”

There was clear incentive for Dr Dennis to develop sustainable residential air-conditioning and the obvious solution was solar. “The sun shines when we need to cool and Australia has an excellent solar resource,” he said.

Dr Dennis’ design replaces the electrical compressor in a conventional air-conditioner with a solar powered thermal compressor. Solar power is provided in the form of heat, not electricity, from conventional solar water heater panels. The same system could provide heat in winter and hot water all year round.

“The air-conditioner is very similar to a household split-system with which most people are familiar, except for the power source,” he said.

An extensive two-year commercially driven development program will begin this year, with commercial and manufacturing issues expected to be addressed in 2010. With only one moving part and no potent chemicals, Dr Dennis predicts the cost to manufacture the system will be low.


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