As you are probably already aware, Solar America Solutions uses solar thermal technology to provide space heating and hot water for our customers. In so doing, we have developed the most efficient and cost-effective solar thermal collection unit ever built. Our SunQuest 250 evacuated tube collector can produce heat energy at 475°F. However, could that heat energy also be used for air conditioning?
If research being conducted by students and faculty at Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is any indication, it can. Their experiments have shown it is possible to use the heat generated from a solar thermal unit to drive the heat absorption process necessary for refrigeration. It may sound counterintuitive, but it really does work.
The research team built a prototype 300W system that captured the sun’s rays using parabolic mirrors. That energy was then fed to a concentrated collector where it was used to drive a compressor. The team has already built a refrigeration unit similar to the air-conditioning you would find on an RV. The next task is to take the knowledge gleaned from the proof of concept design and scale it up. They hope to eventually build a one-ton air-conditioning unit capable of adequately handling up to 500 ft.² of space.
The main difficulty with the current design is that it only works in areas where direct sunlight is readily available. There is no getting around the fact that parabolic mirrors require ample amounts of direct sunlight. What’s more, the system is nearly useless on overcast days or during the overnight hours. To solve this problem, the team will also be developing a high-capacity storage system alongside their larger air conditioner.
Evacuated Tube Design
When we set out to design our SunQuest 250 solar collector unit, we did so with the understanding that we needed something that would work even in the absence of direct sunlight. We came up with an evacuated tube design capable of achieving two important goals:
- Efficiency – The bane of existence for most solar energy systems is the lack of efficiency. Evacuated tubes are highly efficient; these allow for nearly all of the generated heat to be used by the system – with no moving parts.
- Ultraviolet Collection – In addition to our evacuated tubes, the collector materials we use absorb energy from ultraviolet rays. That means the SunQuest 250 does not require direct sunlight to operate at peak performance. The system works quite well even on overcast days.
Like the team at Embry-Riddle, we also wanted our system to be usable during the overnight hours. Therefore, where our customers require it, we install solar tanks with built-in heat exchangers for extra capacity. The tanks store excess thermal energy that can be used either during off-peak times or to keep the system running at night.
Even as we continue working to make the SunQuest 250 even better than it is now, our customers are already enjoying tremendous savings that will enable most of them to pay for their systems within 3 to 5 years, or even less! We have installed the SunQuest 250 to provide space heating and hot water for agricultural operations, prison cellblocks, college dormitories, and more.
We look forward to seeing whether the Florida research team can produce a commercially viable solar thermal air conditioner. In the meantime, we will continue to develop our own technology to provide cost-effective and efficient space heating and hot water for our customers.