Solar powered air conditioning – the answer to Australia’s electricity peak load
How solar air-con could avoid costly network upgrades http://reneweconomy.com.au/2012/how-solar-air-con-could-avoid-costly-network-upgrades-46101 REneweconomy By Giles Parkinson 13 April 2012 The biggest strain on our electricity networks right now – and the cause for at least one third of the $45 billion network upgrades, and at least half of the recently announced tariff increases – are the “super” peak demand periods triggered when everyone returns home from work and flicks on their air conditioning.
In some states this might only occur for a few hours a year, more in others, but network operators have been at a loss to address the issue, apart from building more capacity. Other solutions have been offered – demand management being one of them – but what if the network operators could turn to solar-powered air conditioners as the solution to reduce peak load?
This possibility is being pursued by the CSIRO in a joint $570,430
project with GWA and Queensland utility Ergon Energy, and supported by
the Australian Solar Institute. The idea is a counter-intuitive one –
effectively using an intermittent resource – solar powered air
conditioning – to create a “firming” solar resource which can respond
to support the electricity grid during times of stress.
How would this work? First it’s necessary to understand the solar
air-con technology that has been developed by CSIRO. It uses panels
similar to those used for solar hot water, to collect the sun’s heat
as hot air, and uses this in turn to create cool air – a
strange-sounding idea, but one that is really no stranger than the old
CSIRO want to install these devices as a retrofit on houses (with gas
backup), and couple with an energy management device that links back
to the grid operator. It will work on the same principle as off-peak
hot water systems, except in this instance the signal will instruct
the air-con driven by electricity to be switched off, replaced with
the solar source or, if no sun, by a gas source.
“Air-con demand is a huge problem in Australia,” says Daniel Rowe, the
project leader in the Demand Side Energy Systems group at CSIRO.
“Renewables are intermittent, and utilities and power engineers want
reliability, but we think we can transform renewable energy technology
– solar cooling – into firm demand reduction that is callable by the
network. This is about making link to utility during those few hours a
year that really count and make it something they can rely upon.”
Rowe says the CSIRO is currently going through the commercialization
process of its solar cooling technology. This project, which will be
road-tested in three houses in Queensland, will test the ability for
the technology to shift the air conditioning load to solar and gas
when the network needs it, while keeping the occupants comfortable.
“Solar cooling is coming along in leaps and bounds in Australia –
without going into too much technical detail, the technology works
really well in humid and sunny climates – and that characterises
Queensland,” Rowe told RenewEconomy.
“The end game for this sort of technology is instead of having to
upgrade the network in certain areas – and hitting capacity
constraints – maybe the grid operators can look at other interesting
ideas. There could be real incentives to putting in solar air-con with
this type of technology and allow the utilities to shift loads.
Rowe says that if the project is successful, it is anticipated that
this firm solar air conditioning system could achieve widespread
uptake as a utility-friendly solar solution. And it would likely be
preferable to business-as-usual electrical network upgrades and allow
energy utilities to redirect expenditure toward generation plant,
rather than distribution infrastructure.