Anyone may have one basic question – Is solar energy sufficient to run air conditioners? If yes, how wonderful it would be to live in an air-conditioned place without bothering about the electricity bills!
Importantly you use solar energy when it is most readily available and you need it the most. The question is however, can the AC run only on solar energy or does it need electricity as well. It depends on the technology.
The air conditioners that we see all around us require electricity to cool the rooms. Solar air conditioners use energy from sun to provide some or all of the energy required to produce cooling. Hence, by using solar air conditioners you can either reduce or eliminate the need electricity required for cooling.
Solar air conditioning can provide significant environmental benefits. Air conditioners are one of the major contributors to peak demand for electricity and solar air conditioners offer the benefit of peak load shifting in addition to the reduction in total energy requirement thereby reducing stress on the grid.
The challenge of creating the solar air conditioning system created a start-up Helioclim in 2011, in Mandelieu on the French Riviera – as part of a project funded by the Agency for Environment and Energy Management (ADEME) in respect of investments to come up. It has also been approved as a “Young Innovative Company” (JEI).
Space engineers Marie Nghiem, Yannick Godillot, Yann Vitupier and Charles Daniel worked at Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France, on sophisticated satellites such as ESA’s Goce gravity-mapper and and Europe’s Jasonocean-monitors.
Determined to reduce energy consumption, the team drew on their skills in thermal engineering for satellites and their experience of rigorous testing.
They have created a zero-emission air-conditioning system ‘Helioclim’ that doesn’t pollute our atmosphere when we turn it on as it works on solar energy.
How does it work?
As per Helioclim’s site, the system uses a parabolic curved solar mirror-troughs spread across a building’s roof to concentrate the sun’s power on to Helioclim’s air-conditioning system tubes to heat water to 200°C.
Solar Powered Air Conditioning System (Images credit: Helioclim)
This pressurised water enters another unit to provide both hot and cold water – and how it does that remains confidential. The emerging water can be set at anywhere between –60°C and +65°C, which is then circulated to create the required temperatures for the different parts of the building.
Below zero, a water–ammonia mixture is used as the refrigerant. It can connect with the building’s existing chilled and hot water systems and functions even on a cloudy day thanks to stored energy, or power from other sustainable sources like biomass.
In fact, a very large part of the heating needs can be provided by this system itself, even in geographical areas with low level of sunshine.
Although a small number of other companies are also designing solar thermal systems, what makes the Helioclim version unique is that it can provide cooling down to –60°C and heating up to +200°C.
“Building a spacecraft is unusually complex and it must function perfectly for 15 years, so our standards have to be extremely high. We leave nothing to chance and we test every component meticulously to make sure it will stand the test of time, even in the harshest conditions,” says Marie.
This kind of solution is particularly well suited for areas in which electrical energy is rare or expensive while sunshine is important, for example subtropical areas.