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DIY: Little or No Power Air Conditioning Systems

Imagine one day, in the not so distant future, going to your local home improvement store and buying an economical air conditioning system that easily DIY installs at your home or office and uses little or no power from your local utility.

Climate control of homes and offices, (less than 10-Tons) is the largest single consumer of power today and is growing at a blistering pace around the world. If global trends continue, there will be plenty of inefficient, cheap air conditioners and not enough fossil fuels to keep them running. Fortunately, several sustainable ways of powering climate control equipment have emerged that will alter this dynamic making climate control available to all while easing stress on our utility grids, budgets and climate.

Using the sun and wind for air conditioning is nothing new; wind, solar and geothermal have all worked well in the past. They continue to be utilized today along with new forms of sustainable ground source, absorption chiller, ultra high efficiency heat pump chillers and solar assisted compressor technologies.

There have been substantial cost reductions and hardware improvements in all facets of renewable energy systems, (solar panels, evacuated tubes, wind turbines and batteries) making it feasible to link them with modified mechanical air conditioning technology. When renewables can efficiently supply power to mechanical climate control systems, direct, or through stored energy, the equipment’s capability is fully optimized during the time of day when it’s needed the most.

The oldest and most popular strategy for sustainable climate control is absorption chiller technology. Primarily used in larger applications, (10+ Tons) it is estimated to constitute over 40% of global capacity. With recent advancements in small solar absorption chiller technology, (10-Tons and less) combined with lower costs for evacuated tubes, there’s great potential in the residential and commercial climate control space moving forward. It’s estimated that solar evaporative coolers and small absorption chillers are viable in over 30% of new and replacement, small climate control installs with power savings of over 80%,

New breeds of high tech air conditioning now available are the direct current and AC/DC hybrid ductless split systems or “splits”. These high quality, simple to install splits most common in the 1-Ton capacity, evolved from traditional splits and are extremely efficient with common power savings of up to 85%. Equipped with high efficiency variable speed DC compressors and fans, automated logic controls and using environment friendly 410A refrigerant, they’re adaptable to almost any climate, mission or structure.

Direct current splits are available in 1-Ton, (12,000 BTU) capacity and requires a robust battery bank/charging system sized to the specific needs of the user. The longer the split is required to run, the higher the system cost. Off-grid and grid failure applications requiring quiet operation are best suited for this split with no grid or generator power connection necessary.

Hybrid splits are available in 1-Ton, (12,000 BTU) capacity, Its advantage lies in the way DC solar power directly supplements most of the system’s power needs during the highest demand part of the day and automatically uses grid AC power to make up the difference. No battery bank or power charging system is necessary which cuts installed costs up to 2/3 over the off-grid split. They are best utilized in stable, grid-tied and generated power situations for primary and augmented cooling and heating where power costs continue rising.

The latest addition to the sustainable climate control mix is the ultra high efficiency heat pump chiller. Debuting in 2015, the cooling and heating system takes 240vac, 50/60 hertz power and uses a two or three ton variable speed, direct current compressor to cool or heat water that is then pumped to multiple, (up to seven) remote controlled, programmable air handlers that are equipped with direct current variable speed motors. This estimated 30-SEER system works where the demand is needed, (living areas during the day and bedrooms at night) to replace up to a six-ton system, (72,000 BTU). When deployed to cool and dehumidify electronic rooms in climates that experience Fahrenheit temperatures in the 30’s, the heat pump chiller can operate in excess of 60-SEER, when a simple option is added. These systems are easily scalable up to 30-Tons, are solar ready, (as little as three amp draw at start, directly integrates with solar water heating systems) and are perfect for server room cooling and dehumidification.

These newer breed of sustainable air conditioning systems are a small percent of the current market although some manufacturers are spending serious dollars promoting this space, which affirms the shift. The accelerating market acceptance combined with rapid technical advances, falling hardware costs and a consistent increase in power costs have created the perfect storm making sustainable air conditioning the system of choice now and more so in the future.