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New Solar-Powered Air Conditioning Is Hot New Thing

By Larry Everhart

The irony could hardly be missed.

After weeks of little or no rain, and day after day of bright sunshine, the rain came in torrents all day when a solar-powered air conditioning system was scheduled to be installed.

Thought to be the first such central AC in the country, its installation had to be postponed.

Still, the manufacturer, contractor and customers – Leo and Angela DiRubbo in North Lakeland – laughed off that irony.

"Story of my life," Leo DiRubbo said. "We couldn’t buy rain until today, I decide to have this installed, and the first time I need sun …"

The area was drenched all day. But once the system was put in, "You could have up to three or four days with no sun" and it would still work, said solar contractor Ed Taylor, owner of American Solar Energy, LLC.

When the sun is out in Florida, the solar AC refrigerant is heated to up to 300 degrees, compared with 170 degrees in a conventional system. That enables it to function longer to eventually force cooled air, even without light or heat from the sun.

"It’s the first in America that we know of," Taylor said of the Sedna Aire system he was to install.

Sedna Aire president is Jim Hammond. He and other workers were assembling the solar panel tubing in DiRubbo’s garage as the rain poured down.

"Sol Coal, a manufacturer in California, uses solar power for electricity in air conditioning," Hammond said. "Here, the sun super-heats the refrigerant to the condenser. It eliminates the strain on the compressor. It will be half the cost of the most efficient unit now on the market. BTUs are BTUs."

In the new system, the compressor is eliminated except as a pump, so that far less electricity is used.

The new method is remarkably simple. Instead of electricity, a solar panel on the roof, as Taylor said, super-heats the refrigerant to start the process. The more it is heated, the more energy is saved.

"When it goes to the evaporator, it exits as a very cold liquid," Taylor said. "It’s not freon, but R407C, an environmentally friendly gas."

In the conventional method, electricity is used to power the compressor and squeeze the fluid. Its molecules are packed closer together, raising the energy and temperature. It’s no secret that in this traditional system, the hotter it is outside, the harder and longer the AC works and the more electricity it uses. With Sedna, Hammond said, the hotter it is outside, the fewer amps used and the more efficient.

"In any air conditioning, the only components that use electricity are fans to move the air in the compressor and condenser," Hammond said. "When you use 23 amps that way, you only use 7 with solar powering."

Not surprisingly, Taylor sees a bright future, no pun intended, for his and Sedna’s system.

"It will be like the Internet," he said.

It’s a matter of winning over more converts and getting them to believe it will work. Leo DiRubbo, the first customer, said, "I’ve been in the construction industry for 40 years. I was senior vice president of Amec, one of the largest construction companies in the world. We installed solar units in the 1970s for heat in an office building in Millbrook, N.Y. I’m already using it for hot water and my pool. I understand the concept because we’ve done it. That’s why I’m the first.

"It’s really simpler than an old air conditioning unit because there are less moving parts."

One hurdle might be getting people to pay for the higher installation cost of a solar-powered system.

A $7,000 price tag is typical, Taylor said, but his firm will help potential customers with financing.

And, he pointed out, $3,500 or more isn’t unusual to install a conventional system.

The next solar-powered systems are scheduled to be installed in Citrus County and Daytona Beach. There is a three-month waiting list. The parts are American-made, except for the tubes in the solar panels, made in Malasia.

"Air conditioning and hot water are the two largest consumers of electricity in a house," Taylor said. "If you solar-power those, you can lower your electric bill from $300 a month to $120. The AC cost will be half and the hot water one-third. It will pay for itself in a couple of years."

As to whether the current economy might cloud the outlook, Taylor said, "In a recession, people will go without a lot of things, but not without air conditioning.”

Rather than viewing his system as competition for electric companies, Taylor likes to see it first as green. "Our way is natural. And solar power is free.”

Taylor is a Polk County native and state-certified contractor who has worked in solar energy for more than 25 years.



This story appeared in print on page C4