You wouldn’t expect that energy from sunlight, which is very hot, could power air-conditioning units to cool things down. But that’s precisely the latest breakthrough from China-based Shandong Vicot Air Conditioning Co.
Debuting its solar-powered people-cooler at the 2010 World Solar-Powered Air Conditioning Development Forum in Dezhou, China, Shandong demonstrated that the idea is not only feasible, but practicable.
The unit achieves an optimal 85-percent thermal cooling conversion efficiency, and is 27 times more efficient at converting solar insolation to cool air than even the average solar water heater. Since passive and flat-plate solar water heaters are among the most efficient ways to convert solar insolation to usable hot water, this is amazing. More amazing is the fact that the unit is a direct-from-solar cooling device, rather than air conditioning that runs off the electricity generated by solar panels.
According to Shandong Vicot President Li Wen, the A/C unit is the culmination of three years of pioneering solar research efforts by Chinese and American scientists, who collaborated to achieve this cutting-edge technology, which is not only low-carbon but low cost. That is, the unit will recoup its initial investment in 3.5 years, and the entire investment in 6.7 years.
Industry experts were almost unanimous in their opinion that the Shandong Vicot offering is an innovation worthy of China’s increasingly dominant solar technology sector. It also represents an arrow in time for the industry’s future development, particularly as the world is replete with solar technologies to extract electricity from sunlight, but heretofore has no method for converting solar insolation to cooler air.
If, as predicted, 2060 sees the Earth exhausted of its traditional sources of energy like coal, oil and gas, the advent of clean energy technologies like solar, which can be tweaked to produce light, heat and cooling, will be a literal lifesaver.
For China, the world’s largest producer and consumer of solar power, the invention is a milestone. The Chinese people have taken to solar-powered water heating in a big way, and the industry itself reached 4.2 million square meters production capacity in 2009, or an annual growth rate of 35.4 percent.
China now produces 40 percent of the world’s solar cells. In spite of that, most of China’s solar-related production is destined for export, even though last year China rose to be the world’s biggest energy user in 2009 – a record formerly held by the U.S.