Turning Arizona's dry heat into a comfy chill
An innovative solar-thermal heating and cooling system installed on top of the UA's Student Recreation Center is expected to harvest almost 200 million kilowatt hours of solar energy per year enough to power more than 180 households.
In a nationwide first, an innovative system recently installed on the University of Arizona campus uses the suns energy not only for heating but also for cooling.
At the heart of the solar thermal cooling and pool heating system is an array of 346 argon-filled vacuum tube solar thermal collectors installed on the roof of the UAs Student Recreation Center.
The collectors utilize heat from the sun as a free energy source to drive an absorption chilling system to help keep buildings on campus cool while also heating the recreation centers main swimming pool.
An absorption chiller works similarly to a refrigerator or an air conditioner, except it uses a process relying on heat, rather than electric power.
A water-glycol mix heated by the sun is pumped through the absorption cooler to produce chilled water that is fed into the Universitys main chilled water loop to provide cooling for campus buildings, said Ralph Banks, assistant director for engineering at the UAs Planning, Design and Construction Office and manager of the UAs Solar Initiative Project.
A byproduct of the absorption process is excess heat, which is subsequently used to heat the recreation centers main pool, Banks said.
According to Banks, heating a large swimming pool, like the recreation centers main pool, requires large amounts of energy for much of the year. The Solar Thermal Array provides a third of the energy needed to heat the pool and offsets the use of natural gas heating.
The benefit lies in utilizing solar energy in two ways: heating the pool and cooling buildings on campus, Banks said. To our knowledge, no other university campus in the U.S. uses solar energy in this unique application.
Through its partnership with Ameresco Southwest, formerly known as APS Energy Services, and Tucson Electric Power, the University is advancing solar technology awareness and education on campus and the community.