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Home Power Article - Solar Cooling, Part 1

Home Power Article - Solar Cooling, Part 1

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Published by: jrod on Jan 28, 2010
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Home Power #82 April / May 2001
uch of my early adult life wasspent homesteading in theAlaskan bush. Winters are thepredominant force there, and like mostothers in a northern or temperate zoneclimate, my main concern was keepingmy living space warm. My locationcolored my entire world view. It neveroccurred to me that in some places inthe world, the problem was to stay cool.
Most of the residents of the United States have similarproblems of perception. Because of this necessaryemphasis on heating, there is not a lot of informationavailable on alternative methods of cooling. In 1980, Iwas fortunate enough to “retire” to the Central Americancountry of Belize where I routinely encounteredtemperatures in the eighties and nineties, and humidityin the upper 30 percent of its range. 95°F (35°C) at 95percent humidity will quickly draw your attention to theneed to cool down.In the United States and most other industrial nations,cooling is dealt with by refrigeration. Air conditioners arepredominantly powered by electricity, which is usuallyproduced by burning fossil fuels. Affluence allows us tocondition our living space using an expensive fuel ofconvenience. Most “third world” nations only allow thisluxury to the very well-off. Where grid power is availablein Belize, it costs 25 cents per kilowatt-hour. This is fartoo expensive for the average person to use for coolingon a regular basis.
Cooling for the Humid Tropics
Over the years, I’ve studied the problem of low energyinput cooling in the tropics worldwide. There are twovery different environments that demand solutions tothe cooling problem. Hot, arid landscapes may requirecooling as much as hot, humid areas, but the principlesused to address the two problems are quite specific.In this series of articles, I will try to pass on what I havelearned about using sun, wind, and the basic principlesof heat transfer to create a comfortable livingenvironment. I am specifically targeting the humidtropics, but many of the principles I will discuss arerelevant to arid areas as well. I will emphasize passivetechniques here—things that can be done without usingany technically derived energy to move heat, ortechniques using devices to control heat flowautomatically.This will be a multi-part article. In the first part, I coverthe basic principles of heat transference, and try toexplain how they interact and what type of effects theyproduce. Later, I will discuss materials andenvironmental factors. Also, I will specifically apply thebasic principles to building design and construction.
Heat Fundamentals
Heat is the motion of molecules in a substance. Thehotter the temperature, the more energetic the motionbecomes. There is no such thing as “cold”—there isonly more or less heat. Cold is our own subjectivereaction to a condition of too little heat for the body tobe in its comfort zone.This is an important concept because there is no oneperfect temperature at which we are all comfortable.The human comfort zone depends on several factors,
Cliff Mossberg
 ©2001 Cliff Mossberg
Though the climate of Belize is hot and humid,residents can use various passive techniquesto create a cooler,more comfortable living environment.
Part I — Basic Principles
Home Power #82 April / May 2001
not least of which is the human acclimatization to thespecific environment we live in.While temperature is proportional to the energy ofvibration in molecules of a substance, heat quantity is ameasure of the numbers of these molecules and thetemperature at which they are vibrating. Alarge pan ofboiling water has more heat in it than a small one does,even though they are at the same temperature.As matter heats up, the molecules move farther apart—they expand. Thus for the same volume of matter, thereare fewer molecules if the material is hotter. This meansthat the same volume of our hypothetical materialweighs less per unit volume when it is hot and morewhen it is cold and dense. This is true of solids, liquids,and gasses that are unconfined.
Three Modes of Heat Transfer
There are three ways that heat can be transferredbetween a source and a receiver body. They areradiation, conduction, and convection.They all accomplish the task of imparting heat energy toa receiver body, and they do so in proportion to thedifference in temperature between the sending sourceand the receiving body (called “delta t” and written
means “the change in”). The higher thedifference in temperature between a heat source and aheat receiver, the faster heat will flow into the receiverand the faster its temperature will rise.
When we talk about the electromagnetic spectrum, allwe’re talking about is “radio” waves—waves ofmagnetic energy that can propagate through a vacuumin space, thus transferring energy from the sun, stars,and galaxies to our earth. We are familiar with AM radioand the higher frequencies of FM radio and TV, but theradio spectrum contains many other waves of muchhigher frequencies. Visible light is a series of radiowaves that our bodies can detect directly.Other frequencies such as infrared (lower in frequencythan visible light), ultraviolet (above the frequency ofvisible light), and x-rays (very, very high frequency) areundetectable by thehuman eye. Yet thesefrequencies transferenergy as surely as thevisible light frequencies,and we are affecteddirectly by them. Infraredradiation from the sunproduces the feeling ofheat on our skin when thesun’s rays hit us.Ultraviolet radiation causes sunburn, and x-rays can killor mutilate our body’s cells.Infrared radiation is the vehicle of heat transference thatis most important to life on earth. It is heat radiationtransmitted directly to the earth by the sun. It is one ofthe principles that allows a woodstove or a bonfire toradiate heat that warms at a distance.Visible wavelengths can be converted to infraredradiation when they fall on an absorptive surface, suchas a roof or a photovoltaic panel. The energy in theselight waves is absorbed by the surface, causingheating. This heating in turn causes re-radiation fromthe absorber as heat, or infrared light. This is thereason hot water collector panels are self limiting intheir efficiency. The collector panel heats up the wateruntil the water re-radiates as much energy back to thesky as it takes in. At this point, there is no further gain incollection of radiant energy possible.Aroof heats up in the sun’s rays until it re-radiatesinfrared heat energy down into the house as well as out
WindowRadiant Heat:
Energy in wavelengths thattravel through through glass,air, and even a vacuum
Becomes heat whenenergy excitesmolecules of objectin its path
Methods of Heat Transmission
TransmissionTransmissionDirection of HeaMethodMechanismMediumMovemen
RadiationElectromagneticVacuum or transparentAny direction, lineradiant energymediumof sight from sourceConductionMolecule to moleculeAny substantialAny direction intomechanical transferencematerial in contactmaterial in contactConvectionPhysical relocation ofUsually movementUsually upward,a heated substanceof a heated fluidunless forced
Heat Transmission through Radiation
Home Power #82 April / May 2001
into the air. If the ceiling has no barrier to radiantenergy, this radiation will heat up the ceiling surface,which in turn will re-radiate the heat directly into theliving area of the structure. Radiant energy is theprinciple vehicle for moving heat in a downwarddirection into a structure.
Effects of Solar Incidence
There are several factors that affect the ability of asurface to absorb or radiate infrared energy, and one ofthe most important is the angle at which the radiationhits the absorbing surface, known as the angle ofincidence. If you want to absorb energy at themaximum efficiency, radiation should fall on a collectionsurface that is exactly perpendicular to that radiation.The diagram above shows a variety of panel angles inrelation to the sun's rays. When the panel isperpendicular to the sun's rays, the most energy isintercepted. When the panel is set at 45 degrees to thesun's rays, only about 70 percent of the availableenergy is captured.
Absorption & Reflectance
Another factor that affects the amount of radiationconverted to thermal energy on a hypothetical earth“panel” is the color and texture of the surface. This is sofundamental to our experience that the concept isunderstood intuitively. Dark surfaces absorb heat andenergy, while light surfaces reflect them. Roughsurfaces absorb energy, while smooth surfaces reflectit. What is not so intuitive is that colors and textures thatabsorb energy well, also radiate energy well.Reflective metallic foils take advantage of this. They areactually conductors, but when specifically engineeredinto buildings to control radiant energy, they are asmuch as 95 percent effective at blocking radiant energyabsorption. They are also very resistant to re-radiatingabsorbed energy.To be this effective, a radiant barrier must be installedwith an air space on one or both sides of the material.Its mirror surface will then reflect any infrared energyrather than absorbing it and conducting it as heat.
Conduction is the most intuitively understood mode ofheat flow. For conduction to occur, materials must be incontact with each other. For example, imagine a copperbar one foot long, two inches wide, and half an inchthick (30 x 5 x 1.3 cm)—a rather substantial piece ofcopper. If we support this bar, and place a candle or aBunsen burner under one end, the bar will slowly heatup from one end to the other. Soon the whole bar willbe too hot to touch. Heat is being transmitted byconduction throughout the bar.
(parallel) tosun’s rays:No raysintercepted45
to sun’s rays:71% of raysintercepted15
to sun’s rays:26% of rays intercepted60
to sun’s rays:87% of raysintercepted75
to sun’s rays:97% of raysintercepted30
to sun’s rays:50% of rays intercepted
Panel width71% ofpanel width
(perpendicular) tosun’s rays:100% of rays intercepted
Solar Incidence at Various AnglesAbsorbtance Characteristicsfor Common Building Materials
Asphalt Shingles SurfaceSolar Absorptanc
Rough Wood 
Smooth Wood 
Glazed or Enameled Surfaces 
Unpainted Brick 
Concrete Block 

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