We are intimately familiar with solar thermal energy being used to create space heat and hot water. In fact, our patented SunQuest 250®™ solar thermal collector is one of the best tools on the market for designing solar thermal systems that pay for themselves in short order. But what about using solar thermal for air-conditioning? It’s possible, as evidenced by a brand-new project now underway in Nicaragua.
A report from Sun & Wind Energy magazine claims that a hospital in Managua, Nicaragua has ordered nearly $4.5 million in equipment and services from an Austrian company contracted to install a solar thermal plant on hospital grounds that will provide hot water and energy for air-conditioning. The project is being funded via a soft loan put together by a number of international partners. The United Nations Industrial Development Organization and National Cleaner Production Centre of Nicaragua are also involved in the development of the project.
The target of the project is Hospital Militar Dr. Alejandro Dávila Bolaños, the largest hospital in Nicaragua with 400 beds. The ultramodern facility was opened in 2015 in Nicaragua’s capital with built-in plans to make it as energy efficient as possible as new technologies became available. Adding the solar thermal plant will be the first major upgrade to the hospital since it opened.
A Major Rooftop Installation
Solid is the Austrian company that has obtained the contract to install the system in Nicaragua. Plans call for a solar thermal plant with 4,450 m² of collector space on the roof of the hospital. If all goes according to plans, the completed installation will provide all of the hot water needed throughout the facility while also contributing significantly to air conditioning.
Solid may have won the contract in part because of their reputation and experience. They have been part of more than 300 projects globally, and their reputation for successful implementation of solar thermal technology most definitely precedes them. Project officials believe the Nicaraguan installation will not only save the hospital money, but it will also reduce its emissions by up to 1,100 tons of CO2 annually.
Adapting Solar Thermal to Air-Conditioning
The idea of using solar thermal as a power source for air-conditioning is not something we talk about a lot in this country. Applications here are mainly for space heat and hot water – primarily because the heat generated by solar thermal systems is easily transferable for these applications. However, adapting solar thermal for air-conditioning is no harder than adapting it to process heat.
For example, let’s say we designed a rooftop installation consisting of SunQuest 250™ solar thermal collectors, thermal heat exchanger units, and storage tanks. All of the thermal energy produced by the system could be transferred to space heating equipment or water heaters in a standard installation. But it could also be used to generate energy that would power air conditioners.
We are not privy to the details necessary to describe exactly what the plans are in Nicaragua, but we cannot imagine the system would be too complicated. Solar thermal energy production is flexible enough that it can be used in a wide variety of applications. Providing power for air-conditioning is just one of them and both adsorption and absorption chillers that convert heat to commercial air conditioning have been in use for many years. We would like to see solar thermal collectors being used as the primary heat source for that application on a more wide-spread basis.
We look forward to seeing how the Nicaragua project works out. According to Sun & Wind Energy, similar projects funded by international soft loans are planned for other parts of the developing world as well. Right now is a great time to be part of the emerging solar thermal industry.
1.Sun & Wind Energy Magazine – http://www.sunwindenergy.com/solar-thermal/nicaragua-clinic-will-use-solar-thermal-energy-air-conditioning-water-heating