A group of researchers computed air conditioning requirements in 60 of the world’s most populous cities – with the additional ventilation required due to COVID-19. Then, they compared the energy costs with their cooling method, using the chilled panels and natural ventilation.

According to a published report, the alternative solution can save up to 45% of the required energy, while ensuring building occupants are comfortable and rooms are adequately refreshed.

Many public health guidelines, as well as building industry bodies, recommend increasing the flow of fresh, outdoor air into buildings in order to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other diseases. Explaining the development, Dr. Adam Rysanek, a Professor in the school of architecture and landscape architecture at UBC, said, “However, if we continue to rely on conventional HVAC systems to increase indoor fresh air rates, we may actually double energy consumption. That’s the nature of conventional HVAC.  Alternatively, we can encourage people to install new types of radiant cooling systems, which allow them to keep their windows open even when it’s hot outside. These alternative systems can provide a sufficient level of thermal comfort, increase protection against disease while lessening the impact on the environment.”

The researchers demonstrated their cooling system by building a pavilion in Singapore featuring a system
of chilled tubes enclosed within a condensation-preventing membrane…
Image Credit: Lea Ruefenacht

Toronto is one of the cities included in the latest analysis, as are Beijing, Miami, Mumbai, New York and Paris. In all these regions, peak summer temperatures can soar past 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).

“A key impact of climate change is the accelerating rise in average and peak temperatures, particularly in urban areas. We are expecting the appetite for indoor cooling will ramp up in the years ahead. Yet, if we want to mitigate urban heat and ensure people are healthy and comfortable while reducing our energy use, we need to seriously consider revolutionising our historical approach to air-conditioning,” said Rysanek, who is also the Director of the Building Decisions Research Group at UBC’s faculty of applied science.

Rysanek and his colleagues earlier demonstrated their cooling system in the hot and humid climate of Singapore. They built a public pavilion featuring a system of chilled tubes enclosed within a condensation-preventing membrane. This allowed occupants to feel comfortable, and even cold, without changing the air temperature surrounding the human body. He said, “You can think of it as lean A/C — or, even better, as a green alternative to energy-guzzling air conditioning.”

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