Solar Power: a Winner in Big Scale Commercial Experiment

Controlling the environment in commercial spaces is a big tax on resources, solar power could be the solution.

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A shopping centre in Victoria is the site for a test project where renewable energy is being used to power a commercial scale air conditioner system.

A joint venture between CSIRO, Stockland Group, and NEP, the solar powered technology has been operating successfully at the Stockland Wendouree Shopping Centre in Ballarat for seven months.

Recently, the players involved announced that so far they are convinced that this new technology – introduced to a commercial context for the first time anywhere in the world – is delivering a high performance.

Funded at $1.2 million including $520,000 from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) the project seeks to provide a solution to the high consumption of power involved in controlling environments of a large commercial nature like retail centres, hotels, and skyscrapers.

Solar panels on the roof at Wendouree

According to CSRIO’s data, meeting the heating and cooling requirements in locations like these accounts for as much as 60% of their total energy use.

In the Ballarat project, thermal technology is used to produce heat that becomes the source of power for the shopping centres’ air conditioning system.

In an official statement the CSIRO explains:

The system adjusts the amounts of heating and cooling generated to match the needs of the building, supplying space heating in winter [and] space cooling in summer all year round.”

Two ‘desiccant’ wheels – a type of thermal wheel used in air handling systems for both exhaust and supply – act together to remove the moisture from the air.

“A high-temperature wheel uses solar heat for regeneration,” the CSIRO says, “while the low-temperature wheel functions without any external heat to deliver greater efficiency on a commercial scale.”

Amongst the virtues of this system is greater efficiency.

It offers a reduction in HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) electricity usage while the solar heat-driven desiccant air conditioning technology takes up to 40% less room than the conventional system.

The Energy Director of CSIRO, Peter Mayfield, believes that this kind of technology will accelerate Australia’s “transition to a lower-emissions future” while this kind of research helps to find pathways to drive down the cost of renewable energy.

CSIRO has said that there are – unspecified challenges ahead – for this innovation and the pilot phase of the Ballarat project will continue for another year.