October 27, 2021

Air conditioning accounts for roughly 10 percent of global electricity consumption. That figure is likely to rise because the world’s fastest growing cities are largely located in warmer climates, pushing demand for cooling even higher. 

There is enormous demand for cooling technology that reduces electricity demand. From innovative materials to digital technologies, researchers have devoted significant effort into finding new ways to keep people cool. And the benefits go beyond simply keeping cool. Peak demands during extreme weather events can strain electricity grids. 

With that in mind, here’s a look at three new approaches to help people cut their electricity consumption without sacrificing comfort on scorching hot summer days. 

Beaming Heat Into Space: Developed in the Stanford University Lab of IEEE Fellow Shanhui Fan, an innovative material that reflects sunlight while also absorbing and emitting long-wave, infrared radiation in a narrow band, between 8 and 13 micrometers, is seeing promising results. The Earth’s atmosphere is essentially transparent to this radiation at this wavelength, meaning it passes into outer space. In field experiments, researchers have shown that these panes can cool water to 3 to 5 degrees C below ambient temperature. 

Most recently, the technology was deployed in a pilot program at a California supermarket where water from the market’s refrigeration system passed through panels made of the reflective material. Researchers estimate that the initiative resulted in a 15 percent reduction in electricity consumption. 

Smart Homes By the Dozen: Industrial and commercial building owners have long cooperated with electricity providers to cut energy consumption and air conditioning during high demand periods. But demand response in residential settings lags behind. A new paper published in the IEEE Open Access Journal of Power and Energy examines methods to coordinate demand response in a group of 100 homes, which could cut electricity costs by 22 percent.

Phase Change Materials: Phase change materials are materials that store or release heat when they change solid to liquid, or liquid to solid. One example: paraffin Model-Based and Data-Driven HVAC Control Strategies for Residential Demand Responsewax. When it melts, it retains heat, but as it cools and solidifies, it releases the heat. One application of this is a system that absorbs heat during the day, when temperatures are high. In the construction sector, researchers are examining the use of phase change materials in building supplies. In one recent study, a PCM plaster applied to the interior surface of exposed walls reduced the indoor temperature fluctuation range by up to 2.5°C on winter days and by up to 2.6°C on summer days, depending on placement.

Want to learn more about innovative materials that help people stay cool? From ultra-white paint to self-fluffing fabrics, the pace of research is faster than ever. 


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