Green Air Conditioning?

Every summer, we spend countless millions of kilowatts keeping things cool indoors.  This alone constitutes a good chunk of global warming, but we’d swelter, even die, without it.  So far, the most efficient way to cool things down has been the swamp cooler, but that’s only of use in relatively arid locations; Evaporative cooling does no good at all near any large body of water.

In the past, discussions about alternative cooling systems always involved huge sums of money. With all the more recent focus on solar and other renewable energy sources, though, scientists have been focusing their attentions on the problem.  We reported some months back about a MIT professor who had devised a solar-driven hydrogen power plant, for example.  Now Europe is talking about revisiting a cooling technology, modifying the concept to be fueled by the sun.  Could Europe have the solution to a Green air conditioner?

Like everything, it comes down to dollars (or Euros) and sense.  If the technology is better in some ways but costs twice as much to operate, it’s not going to catch on.  If it costs too much initially, again, it’s going to be left behind.  Let’s take a look at this new Euro concept from Thermodyna.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, Thermodyna has a lofty goal: build a household power plant which will make electricity, heat and and cool the air, and do so whenever you need it to. If they succeed, no air conditioner would be necessary at all. At the heart of the notion is what some have dubbed the “Schukey” motor, a solar-powered cool air machine. The operating cost? 5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is more than half, nearly two-thirds lower than conventional AC units.

According to Thermodyna’s Volker Bergholter, the unit employs just two motors, is driven by the sun, (which heats the water into steam, and from there into the energy that powers the cooling system) and turns damp, warm air into a comfortably climatized 68 degrees F. Sound like a pipe dream? Thermodyna has announced availability as early as 2010. This is all the more important, as experts predict that Europe’s demand for AC will increase at least 10 percent by 2020, a direct result of global warming. The Thermodyna unit would reduce CO2 emissions, and decrease the mid-day demand for electricity. Just when the sun’s rays are hottest, these units would be providing relief from the heat.

It’s not cheap. Right now, the cost is about 1500 Euros ($2490) per kilowatt. But the manufacturer is hoping to slash that by two-thirds within the next decade, and then they’d be even up with conventional technology. Idealists to the end, Bergholter says “In the short term we could bring about a revolution” with the Schukey motor. We tend to agree. What do you think?