CSIRO’s solar thermal air-con providing cool air for shopping centre

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CSIRO-developed air-con technology that uses solar thermal collectors to power energy efficient cooling will undergo 12 months testing at Ballarat shopping centre.

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A solar thermal powered air-conditioning system that concentrates the heat of the sun to cool large commercial spaces has been installed at a shopping centre in regional Victoria.


The CSIRO-developed system was unveiled on Friday, and is now in operation on the roof of the Stockland Wendouree Shopping Centre in Ballarat, where it will provide humidity controlled fresh air for the centre and significantly reduce its electricity usage.

The technology – the result of a $1.2 million project jointly managed by CSIRO with Stockland Group and NEP Solar, and with $520,000 in funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency – uses concentrating solar thermal collectors to produce heat energy used to power the air conditioning system.

Powered by NEP Solar’s trough collectors (pictured below) the system stores heat stored in a thermal oil tank. A closed-loop system uses two ‘desiccant’ wheels to remove moisture from the air, acting as a dehumidifier.

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


As a bonus, the CSIRO’s solar air-con system also requires around 40 per cent less roof space than a traditional single-stage desiccant system.

The main aim of the system is to address the high energy consumption of large commercial spaces like shopping centres and hotels, whose heating and cooling requirements make up around 60 per cent of total electricity use.

So far, CSIRO Energy Director Peter Mayfield says he is extremely pleased with the results.

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

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

It is not, however, the first time solar technology has been applied to the problem of energy-hungry air-conditioning – a huge issue in Australia, not only in terms of cost to the consumer, but for utilities, in terms of demand.

In 2012, Queensland utility Ergon Energy – in partnership with the CSIRO, GWA and the Australian Solar Institute – began developing its own solar powered air conditioning solution, in an effort to even out electricity demand, and prices.

As we reported back then, the Ergon-CSIRO plan was to create a “firming” solar resource which could support the electricity grid during times of stress.

The CSIRO developed technology used panels similar to those used for solar hot water, to collect the sun’s heat as hot air, which is used, in turn, to create cool air.

CSIRO hoped to retrofit the devices to houses, with gas backup, and couple them with an energy management device that linked back to the grid operator.

Another take on solar powered household air-conditioning, also reported here in 2012, was being developed by QUT researcher, Paolo Corrada – but this time a solar cooling and heating system that would run independently of the electricity grid, and generate domestic hot water as a by-product.

Corrada, a PhD student in QUT’s Science and Engineering faculty said then that the system he had designed – which is based on well-proven and highly efficient absorption chiller technology – reduced heating and cooling energy consumption by 90 per cent.

“My target is to make it 100 per cent so that the system is self-sufficient to run off the main grid, costing the home owners nothing to run,” Corrada said in an report published late last month by the QUT-affiliated publication Phys.org.

Whether either of these two technologies made it out of the lab is unclear, but the CSIRO says it will continue to assess and monitor the Ballarat system for the next 12 months to establish long-term commercial operations and further investment as part of CSIRO’s commitment to creating a low emissions future for Australia.

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  1. MaxG 3 years ago

    CSIRO needs to be careful, developing stuff that benefits ordinary citizens — or else: they get defunded by Liar and Numbnuts Party.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      LOL, good one Max, you have made my day!

  2. Ian 3 years ago

    Many have perished or become lost searching for this Holy Grail: Air conditioning using only the heat of the sun . Go to it CSIRO, good on ya!

  3. David K Clarke 3 years ago

    Ballarat seems a strange choice. I could hardly think of an Australian town where air conditioning would be needed less. Sounds like promising technology though.

    • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

      can get pretty cold there… heating costs tend to outweigh cooling costs in cool climates… you’d think they’d have made it reverse cycle for Ballarat with humidifiers too. Article doesn’t explicitly say no heating/humidifying function but implies it.

    • Pfitzy 3 years ago

      Agreed – only about 23 days of the year get over 30C. Though I guess its relative. I can sit out a 30C day but the wife needs the air con 🙂

      However, shopping centres tend to err on the side of freezing with climate control. It encourages shoppers to come in and buy. They have a lot of cubic metres to fill with all those high ceilings, too.

  4. Gerald Katz 3 years ago

    Solar thermal air-conditioning is a technology that has been under development for decades. Many projects have tried tracking parabolic concentrators. But the high cost of the collectors, the complexity of accurate tracking systems and the greatly reduced output from clouds or have had limited the adoption of these systems. Compound parabolic concentrators can produce temperatures high enough for desiccant and absorbtion cooling as well as space, industrial water heating and other mid temperature application with more compact, less expensive and complex equipment. Developed and pioneered by Dr. Roland Winston and having successfully run chillers and heating systems around the world this non tracking solar concentrating technolog is now commercially available through Artic Solar in Jacksonville Florida. Check them out

    • Chris B 3 years ago

      Photovoltaics and a DC powered heat pump would be vastly more efficient.

      • Gerald Katz 3 years ago

        Heat pumps especially the mini split ductless systems are extremely efficient, but for the dry climate I live in evaporative cooling is quite effective. I built a cooler for a few hundred dollars that cools most of our home and uses about 100 Watts DC. Our radiant floor heating system operates on 2 25Watt pumps and 6 solar thermal collectors. Heat pumps with evaporative cooler condenser and solar boosting in winter would be extremely efficient but would cost much more.

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