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An efficient, low impact method for heating and cooling a home (8/5/05)

One of the problems facing us these days is how we generate energy. Coal and oil are polluting our world and the price of oil is skyrocketing due to political and industrial reasons. Those reasons haven't even made it to the fears of it running out, a belief now becoming rather widespread and well supported scientifically. Hydrogen sounds like a great alternative until one learns the energy required to "make" it produces more pollutants than it would save just by using coal or oil in the first place. Solar power also seems nice but has it's own problems, including a dismal efficiency rating (~15%) and more pollutants created by making the panels than saved by using them, even over the long run.

The search is on for a "real" alternative. One option that seems clean is Underground Thermal Energy Storage. Unfortunately it doesn't actually create energy it just stores it really well, allowing us to "save" the heat from the summer for heating our homes and buildings, and saving the cold from the winter for cooling during the summer. Heating and cooling costs are greatly reduced as a consequence, all though not entirely because the solution isn't a complete one.

Solar panel technology has given us an intriguing possibility here though. Concentrating solar panel plants capture a large amount of rays from the sun and redirect them towards a solar panel. But all that thermal energy need not be redirected to a solar panel. Instead it could be sent for storage in a UTES, without any inefficient conversion to electricity. In this way a UTES could completely handle heating during the winter. The space required for this could even be gained by building designs that use prisms to channel the sun's rays towards a store of Glauber's salt below the building, feeding a UTES. With enough heat we could even build a wall of a building to be a giant Seebeck effect thermoelectric-generator, generating electricity from the different temperatures... electricity that can be stored for use during the summer to cool a building.

One more, just for fun... a long-term available source of either heat or cold, opposite of atmospheric temperatures (in other words, the system I'm talking about...), would make it easy to power a stirling engine, year round, rain or shine.

The sun is a massive ball of plasma exactly 1 AU from Earth, and we've got energy and environmental problems. Why not take advantage of it?

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