Around the world, air conditioning in homes and offices has emerged as one of the biggest drivers of energy usage. In fact, according to a report from the IEA, that energy demand is set to triple by 2050, which would require “new electricity capacity the equivalent to the combined electricity capacity of the United States, the EU and Japan today.”
In the face of that staggering hurdle, those in the HVAC industry should expect a market-wide focus on finding innovative new ways to increase the energy efficiency of residential and commercial air conditioning systems.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the novel new ideas hitting the AC world today.
Movement-Activated Air Conditioning
In one sense, it’s hard to believe motion- or movement-activated air conditioning isn’t already a well-established technology.
The idea is simple: when sensors placed in the rooms of a home or areas of a commercial building detect movement, they send signals to the AC system to cool those rooms or areas. This way energy isn’t wasted to cool rooms or areas where nobody is present for long durations of time.
Engineers at MIT made significant strides with this type of technology, placing sensors on aluminum rods hung from the ceiling. It’s conceivable, however, that future versions of this concept would include the ability to sync your home’s AC with your smartphone or even a smart watch that not only monitors your movement but also your body temperature.
Thermally Driven Air Conditioning
The recent emergence of solar polar technology as an increasingly affordable power source is leading many to invest in thermally driven AC systems.
It’s no surprise why. Solar panels placed on the roof of an average single-story building typically produce ten times more energy than is needed to cool that same building.
The problem in a conventional system is most modern air conditioners use electrically driven compressors. Thermally driven AC systems, by contrast, use thermal chillers driven by solar power (and sometimes supplemented by natural gas) to operate.
These systems are especially promising as regions that experience the highest temperatures also typically have an abundance of sunlight to draw on for solar power.
Ice-Powered Air Conditioning
Could something as simple as ice be the future of air conditioning? It just might be, at least in a supplementary capacity.
Ice-powered AC systems come in a few different forms. Traditionally, ice slurry systems have been used to increase the efficiency of air conditioning units. This has grown especially common in Japan in recent years.
But could blocks of ice be used to directly cool the air of a building? One system, called the Ice Bear, is already doing this. It freezes water in a large tank overnight and then uses it as a condenser to help cool the interior of the building during the day. In tests, it uses only 300 watts of energy to produce 7.5 tons of cooling for 6 hours, which means it drastically lowers the energy usage costs of the standard AC system during peak hours.