Air Conditioning Technology: Thinking Beyond Energy Efficiency

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These non-air conditioned ways of keeping cool could make a huge difference with climate change

PRI, August 22, 2015. Image credit: CWCS Managed Hosting

Air conditioning not only lowers the temperature of buildings, it also lowers humidity in those same buildings. The electricity required to power this environmental control, however, is a major energy drain. Michael Sivak, a research professor at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has been working on calculating what the increase in energy consumption would look like if everyone in the developing world decided to buy an air conditioner.

“Mumbai, for example, has the potential to consume as much energy as a quarter of the United States if they were to adopt the same use of air conditioning as we do,” he says. “[The] entire country of India would consume, or could potentially consume, 14 times as much energy as we do if they were to adopt our frequency of use.”

“They’ve been looking at these kinds of immediate body-scale technologies for a long time. One example is a mems device; basically, a kind of heat transfer plate that you place near the back of the neck. It’s a lot like putting an ice cube on the back of your neck. You can actually, through the glands associated with that area, quite rapidly cool a body, but also kind of trick your body into thinking it’s much cooler,” Moe says. “We should be thinking about the scale of cooling at the scale we want it, which is the body, not the scale of the building or whole cities, which is what we have now.”

Other architects have been exploring subterranean building techniques that use the Earth to regulate temperature. Still others have been exploring the properties of building materials, such as concrete and wood, attempting to harness these familiar products in new ways.

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