Posted: 30 Oct 2011 05:53 PM PDT
Moving back to my native New Zealand this year, I had the chance to try a different kind of heating system for our house here. One of the most intriguing technologies I'm hearing about here is something I never heard of – an air heat pump.
I was familiar with the very eco correct "geothermal" or ground heat pump, only because I write about green building. This pumps air through pipes that loop through your house and down about 5 feet underground where the temperature is a relatively constant 55 degrees F, summer and winter, from Maine to Miami, bringing up a moderate temperature, even though above-ground temperatures can veer from below 0 to over 100 through the seasons. Staying at a moderate 55 F year round makes it a lot easier to make up the difference (with heating or cooling) to the comfortable 65 or so that we humans evolved to like best.
So I was surprised to find that here, "air" heat pumps appear to be such a normal and everyday way to heat a home, that flashy advertisements vie for your attention in every hardware store, showing how comfortable and warm your family will be with a heat pump to complete the happy home.
But strangely, no marketing emphasis is put on the incredible energy efficiency of the air heat pump! Yet the only energy it needs is the small amount of electricity needed to drive the fan to squirt the heated air, and an air compressor.
It delivers more energy than a 100% efficient heater, which uses 9 kw of electricity to deliver 9 kw of heat. But heat pumps transfer 3 to 4 times the energy that it takes to operate, so they can deliver the same 9 kw of heating from under 3 kw of power.
They extract heat from ambient air outside, filter out particles, molds and pollens and bring heated, dried air inside, using a process a bit like the refrigerator working in reverse. Air heat pumps are controlled by a thermostat so you can adjust heating levels, just like with an actual heater.
That heat pumps can warm a home with no electricity for heating – even when it is colder outside than inside – makes them seem to work by something akin to magic.
The way it actually works is science. It's kind of how a fridge works:
1. A refrigerant gas is contained inside a copper tube that runs from the outside to inside, and this gas has the ability to absorb heat from air.
In the summer, you can simply run them in reverse, to cool the inside of the house, sending the heat out.
Posted: 30 Oct 2011 10:34 AM PDT
Facebook and Google seem to be in an all-out war to see which company can come up with the best energy efficiency solutions for power-gobbling data centers. This round probably goes to Facebook, which just announced two new green data center strategies on two distinct tracks. One is the use of ambient air and renewable energy to power its own data centers, and the other is an open-source project to improve the energy efficiency of computer hardware across the board.
Climate is Facebook’s Best Friend
First let’s take a look at Facebook’s climate-wise data center location strategy. Last week the company announced that it would build a new energy efficient data center in Lulea, Sweden. The project is significant because it is Facebook’s first non-U.S. data center, and it has the potential to be operated entirely by renewable energy, so it sets a pretty high bar for future overseas projects. The Lulea climate will provide all of the center’s cooling needs (Yahoo is in on this ambient-air cooling trick, too, btw), and it will also have access to Sweden’s ample hydropower resources.
Open-Source Energy Efficiency for Data Centers
Facebook’s other step is actually a continuation of the Open Compute Project it launched last April. Last week, the company announced that it has formed a foundation in support of Open Compute, which was formulated with the mission of increasing energy efficiency in computer hardware. The initial project resulted in Facebook’s new custom-designed servers that reduce energy loss and recycle hot air for use in office space, among other things. Facebook calculates that the new design uses 38 percent less energy than its existing servers, while costing 24 percent less.
Energy Efficiency and Green Branding
For Open Compute, Facebook published all of its new energy efficient specs and designs at opencompute.org and basically invited the world to contribute to further improvements. The new foundation carries it a step forward by recruiting input from the business community. It has already racked up an impressive list of charter members including Intel, Dell, ASUS, Mozilla, Netflix, and, interestingly, Goldman Sachs (what, no Google?) – all of which stand to benefit from the project’s success, by positioning themselves as important green brands.
Google Holds its Own on Green Cred
It will be interesting to see who’s first out of their corner when the bell rings for the next round in the Battle for the Green. Google already has a raft of green actions under its belt aside from energy efficient data centers, including a couple of Google Earth projects that map out rooftop solar power potential in California and geothermal energy potential across the U.S., a partnership with NASA to promote green aviation, and a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy to use Google Maps as the primary platform for locating electric vehicle charging stations.
Image Credit: Data Center courtesy of Facebook.
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