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Nicaragua Says Yes to Solar Thermal Air Conditioning

When you think solar thermal, you typically think about space heating and hot water. So what would you say if we told you about a project in Nicaragua in which solar thermal will be used for air conditioning? Indeed, Nicaragua’s largest hospital complex just finalized an agreement this past September that will result in the installation of a monstrous 14,000+ square foot system to provide hot water and subsidize air conditioning.

The hospital is a 400-bed complex that broke ground in 2015. Some two years after the fact, hospital operators will be able to flip the switch on the new solar thermal system and immediately start saving a ton of money. They will spend upwards of $4 million on the system; the total building project is estimated to eventually cost $125 million.

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Liquefied Gas Savings

Designers have created a system that will use energy from the solar thermal installation to provide nearly 100% of the hospital’s hot water and up to 40% of the air-conditioning. The hot water would normally be supplied by liquefied gas, which can be very expensive in Nicaragua, leading engineers to focus mainly on the hot water solution. As for the air-conditioning, solar thermal will supplement an existing electrical system.

They expect excess energy not consumed by hot water needs to be redirected in a way that reduces the load on the electric compression chillers that will handle the bulk of the air-conditioning. At peak efficiency, engineers expect solar thermal can contribute to between 30% and 40% of the energy needed.

To make solar thermal usable for air-conditioning, heat energy has to be used to generate the electricity compressors and chillers need to operate. One way to do that is through steam. However, officials in Nicaragua say that steam is the one thing not being replaced by solar thermal. Exactly how engineers intend to utilize the solar thermal installation is not known yet, but they will likely direct excess heat energy into an adsorption chiller system, much like a propane refrigerator uses.

The Potential Is Huge

At Solar America Solutions, we are always excited to hear about projects like this one. It shows us that the potential for solar thermal is enormous if engineers just put their minds to coming up with new ways to use it. A few years back, we published a blog post about a group of enterprising college students who developed an ingenious way to use solar thermal for air-conditioning without generating electricity. These are the kinds of ideas that are driving the technology forward.

Meanwhile, solar thermal is being used around the world to provide heat, hot water – and, yes even air-conditioning – in the largest of commercial buildings. Property owners are quickly waking up to the fact that solar thermal is incredibly efficient and cost-effective. Furthermore, a system utilizing evacuated tube collector panels is usable for nearly any kind of installation thanks to its high heat output with a remarkably small footprint.

Solar America Solutions’ patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collectors are the most efficient collectors in the industry. With just a very small footprint required on a rooftop or land area, one of our solar thermal solutions can generate as much as 65% of the energy needed for your building’s hot water and space heat.Over the years, we have installed our systems in prison cell blocks, university dorms, and even a Midwest poultry operation.

Hospital officials in Nicaragua are impressed enough with the benefits of solar thermal that they’re willing to spend $4 million on it. They are doing it because they know it will work. So what’s stopping you?

Sources:

1.Solar Thermal World – http://www.solarthermalworld.org/content/nicaragua-soft-loan-fund-eur-4-million-project

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