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Commercial building solar cooling leaps forward

Rooftop concentrating solar thermal collectors power airconditioning systems at Stockland Wendouree

CSIRO has revealed it is testing a commercial solar cooling system on the roof of Stockland’s Wendouree Shopping Centre in Ballarat, Victoria, in a $1.2 million project with Stockland and NEP Solar that has received $520,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Solar cooling uses heat energy generated by the sun to power airconditioning, and promises to slash costs incurred by traditional electricity-powered systems and reduce pressure on the grid, which can see dramatic spikes from aircon use in heatwaves.

For large commercial operations like shopping centres and hotels, where HVAC contributes about 60 per cent of energy use, the cost and carbon savings could be massive.

The pilot project at Wendouree involves a closed-loop system that uses two desiccant wheels to remove moisture from the air, with an indirect evaporative cooler used to reduce the temperature of the dehumidified air. The sun’s heat is stored in a thermal oil tank, which can be used to deliver both space heating and cooling. According to CSIRO, the system uses 40 per cent less roof space than a traditional single-stage desiccant airconditioning system.

“CSIRO’s energy research is driving down costs of renewable technologies, accelerating the transition to a lower-emissions future,” CSIRO energy director Peter Mayfield said.

“We are pioneering new technologies and this project is a world-first demonstration of a desiccant airconditioning system using roof mounted concentrating solar thermal collectors.”

ARENA chief executive Ivor Frischknecht said the CSIRO technology had the potential to provide “reliable and clean heating and cooling in Australian commercial buildings”.

ARENA noted there had been “significant challenges” deploying the technology on a commercial scale, however this was the case for many technologies “moving along the innovation chain”.

If overcome, it could greatly improve the efficiency of commercial buildings. CSIRO said it would continue to assess and monitor the technology for the next 12 months to establish long-term commercial operations.

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