Science Energy The Rebirth of the Cool: 7 Innovations in Air Conditioning By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Updated October 11, 2018 Migrated Image Share Twitter Pinterest Email Science Renewable Energy Fossil Fuels Victorian Bedcurtains are back, as Sun Frost introduces the Sleep Genie, a tiny air conditioner just big enough to keep you comfy while you sleep in your insulated bedchamber. They note that it runs at 72 Watts, and can be powered by a 280 watt solar array. It is so logical, to reduce the load to reasonable amounts for solar simply by reducing the area cooled to the minimum. But as Allison Arieff says in the New York Times: "Great. You may be cooler, but now you’re claustrophobic." She continues: "its execution speaks to a larger issue: a general lack of innovation. Instead of re-imagining what an air conditioner could be (something portable, something that took a different form, something that ran on an alternative energy source), they simply took the existing form and shrank it." She concludes with a challenge: "Home designs that neglect to address things like natural light and ventilation are not contributing to quality of life, let alone reducing heating and cooling costs.... for housing, the challenges are formidable, yet a quick look back to vernacular precedents like shotgun houses that encourage ventilation, and window orientation that encourages passive heating and cooling, would help point things in the right direction. What is everyone waiting for?" TreeHugger has been looking for the holy grail of AC, the solar powered air conditioner, for a number of years. It is getting very close to commercial viability; we will be showing a few new units shortly. Here are some past AC innovations that caught our eye: Some concepts just make sense- like when the developer of a solar powered pontoon boat pointed out-"Since most recreational boating is done when the weather is nice, solar power is particularly well adapted to the task." We were thinking that way while looking for a solar powered air conditioner- when do you need it? Anybody in North America can understand the need for solar powered air conditioning today- there is so much sun, so much heat and everyone is hiding inside while all of our electric utiilities go into overload. Solar Powered Air Conditioning Getting Real Now it looks like a Spanish company, Rotartica, has put it all together, by combining evacuated tube thermal collectors with a water-heated absorption chiller, and sized it at 4.5Kw (1.28 tons) for residential use, all packaged in a neat little box. Until central air became common, Florida and Arizona were barely habitable- you went in winter and cleared out. Now 20% of our energy goes to power air conditioning, and it defines the peak loads. 5.5% of our gasoline goes to power our car air conditioning, and four southern states-California, Arizona, Texas and Florida, account for 35% of it. Clearly if we are going to use less energy we have to address this problem. The approach of warm weather has reminded us of Coolerado Coolers, a low energy air conditioning unit that delivers up to 5 tons of cooling while drawing only 1200 watts, a power load that can easily be handled by a solar installation. It is an evaporative cooler like the desert coolers we have shown before, but unlike most desert coolers, the cool moist air is put through an air-to-air heat exchanger so that the air supplied to the space is cool and dry, which is far more effective at keeping you cool. Every old power plant that can crank out a kilowatt is working overtime, burning coal and gas like mad, shuffling power all over a grid that is on the verge of collapse. Time to look again at a post John did in cooler times a year ago, for an idea whose time has really come. The Ice Bear connects up to a conventional air conditioning system, but uses it to make ice at night when the power is cheap and melts all day to keep you cool. Each unit can take 5 to 10 tons of cooling off the peak load. And how could we forget the air conditioner in a can? "Every clothes it cools! New conception! It just sprays from on the clothes instant cooling!"