Solar power for weather conditioning

Published: Thursday 31 August 2006

Envelope to control heat (Credit: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institu)it may soon be possible for you to get a bubble wrap for your house or your soda bottle or for anything you want to keep either cool or warm. Plus, it will run free of cost on the most abundant energy source known -- the sun. Led by Steven Van Dessel, a team of scientists from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, is fine-tuning such a technology based on what is called the Active Building Envelope (abe).

The abe system, which was also developed by Van Dessel but for buildings, uses a photovoltaic system to convert sunlight into electricity. The power is then transferred to a series of thermoelectric heat-pumps that are built into the walls, windows, and roof. The tapped and transformed energy can make the spaces cooler or warmer, depending on the direction of the current. However, the abe system works out to be bulky and expensive.

Van Dessel and his team are now trying to fabricate thin-film solar panels at the micrometre level, which could be spread over various surfaces, quite like a varnish. The miniature copy would function just like the original, directing and controlling the flow of solar energy to keep an object warm or cool.

As of now, the team has built a computational model to predict the indoor temperature of an outdoor testing room and its integrated abe system. It has verified the model's accuracy by comparing its results with actual temperature data. It was found that there was satisfactory correlation between the two. The model will be used in further studies to assess the effectiveness of the abe system.

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