One of the US electricity sector’s founding pillars was the growth of air-conditioning demand across the country in the years after the Second World War. While electrification had grown to near-universal access in the preceding decades on industrial demand and huge Depression-era government programs, the boom in power plant construction was extended and broadened by the prospect of cooling millions of homes, office buildings and shopping centers and an extended demographic shift in people moving to the sunnier states of the South was boosted.
But air conditioning isn’t without cost, especially during temperatures spikes in the summer when blackout risks loom and prices for power skyrocket in a vise of massive demand and limited total power production.
Reducing the electricity usage of air conditioning could save money for consumers and boost reliability for operators, and could do so on a larger scale than almost any other single advance in consumer technology. That makes recent developments at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory a potential “game changer” for the sector if the group’s technology can achieve commercialization and wide-spread adoption.
NREL says: “Researchers at NREL invented a breakthrough technology that improves air conditioning in a novel way-with heat. NREL combined desiccant materials, which remove moisture from the air using heat, and advanced evaporative technologies to develop a cooling unit that uses 90% less electricity and up to 80% less total energy than traditional air conditioning (AC). This solution, called the desiccant enhanced evaporative air conditioner (DEVAP), also controls humidity more effectively to improve the comfort of people in buildings.”