solar powered cooling systems: are they worthwhile?

Replacing traditional air conditioners with solar cooling systems is an old dream. The most recent solar cooling systems combine common PV solar panels with traditional electric heat pumps and air conditioners.

Absorption chiller air conditioners

The absorption solar chiller technology uses hot water (a 1,200 gallon tank, in the case of the Audubon Nature Center) generated by solar panels to separate a liquid mixture that includes an absorbent (lithium bromide salt, for instance) and a refrigerant fluid (often water). The refrigerant (water vapor) is then condensed and evaporated to produce the cooling effect.

Absorption chilling is an "old" solar cooling technology (though it can also use gas or other fossil fuel).

Absorption solar chillers are common in some Asian countries, particularly in Japan. Some companies - Yazaki... - have invested strongly in them, but though absorption chiller technology is relatively environmentally benign, the chillers are not easy to maintain and expensive for residential uses (they require large cooling towers).

Till now they have been mostly applied in commercial buildings (the Los Angeles Audubon Nature Center - a 5,026-square-foot facility for enjoyment and education, is a good example of it).

Solar air Conditioning Systems Kits.

Big corporations like Lennox or LG are now offering solar air conditioning system kits.

Lennox solar air cooling kitLG's solar cooling kits are just a PV solar panel on top of a thousand watt air conditioner, while Lennox (image at left) solar air conditioning kits are "solar-ready heat pumps and air conditioners", that is, heat pumps designed to be powered by a solar photovoltaic panel.

These systems have obvious advantages, and they can make sense in all-electric energy-efficient homes, in sunny climates.

But they rarely make sense in large and energy-inefficient homes with high air-conditioning needs.




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