Solar Air Conditioning Explained

August 20, 2009
LA Times Features Sopogys SopoCool Air Conditioning Solution

LA Times Features Sopogy's SopoCool Air Conditioning Solution

Solar Air Conditioning explained in graphic produced by the LA Times

LA Times – Using solar heat to power air conditioning

August 20, 2009

Using solar heat to power air conditioning
Southern California Gas Co. is testing systems that use less gas and electricity and is inviting businesses to view the prototypes on the roof of its Downey research facility.

David Berokoff, a technology development manager at Southern California Gas Co., shows off the mirrors of the HelioDynamics air conditioning system on the roof of the Downey facility. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times / July 22)
Graphic: Solar-powered air conditioning

By Nathan Olivarez-Giles
August 20, 2009

Everyone knows solar power can heat homes and generate electricity.

But on a rooftop in Downey, Southern California Gas Co. engineers are using solar mirrors to cool down their offices.

Engineers are testing two technologies that use mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto pipes with water running through them. The heated water powers a thermal process in a chiller that cools the cold water used in air conditioning units.

“When we tell people we heat water up only to cool it down, they don’t get it at first,” said David Berokoff, a technology development manager at SoCal Gas. “But all this technology has been around for a while. We’re just trying to bring it together so we can get it out to our customers as soon as possible.”

The initiative is the latest in a move by SoCal Gas and its parent, Sempra Energy, to wean businesses off gas and push them to use more solar power. For businesses, the technologies could mean substantial savings.

Beyond the potential environmental benefits — the sun is a nonpolluting, renewable source of energy — the solar systems undergoing tests could help businesses slash air conditioning costs as much as 60%, Berokoff said.

The effort may seem counterproductive for one of the nation’s largest natural gas distributors, but it’s part of a broader move by the company to reposition itself as a renewable energy provider, SoCal Gas officials said. Sempra, which also owns San Diego Gas and Electric Co., expects to spend $10 million this year researching and developing “green technologies.”

The research project is only 4 months old and solar-powered cooling probably won’t reach the gas company’s customers for another year or two, but the gas company is already wooing businesses to the rooftop of its Downey research facility.

“When they make an investment in this sort of technology, they are in fact keeping their company viable and making sure they are changing as their customers’ needs change,” said Bob Phillips, a spokesman for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California, which is watching the tests to see whether such technologies would make sense for several of its bottling plants. “It’s a very long-term view, but it’s the right view to have.”

The gas company has been checking out competing solar-thermal cooling technologies from two companies to see which would work best on the roofs of warehouses, manufacturing plants and other commercial buildings.

The research could cut the cost of the systems and bring them to market sooner, Berokoff said.

The rooftop prototype systems, which include the mirrors, pipes and computer-automated solar trackers, cost about $200,000 each — about the same cost as the entire traditional air conditioning system installed in the 45,000-square-foot Downey building, he said.

The developers hope to slash that price by at least half before it reaches commercial customers.

SoCal Gas is comparing systems developed by Sopogy Inc., based in Honolulu, and HelioDynamics of Britain. The testing is expected to run until the middle or end of next year, he said, after which SoCal Gas plans to compare the results with similar mirror-based systems from other manufacturers.

Sopogy’s and HelioDynamics’ systems are similar: Both use mirrors to aim the sun’s rays at water pipes, and when sun isn’t available to heat the water — at night, for example — both rely on gas as a backup.

The differences between the two systems lie in the shape and size of the mirrors used and in the placement of the water pipes.

Sopogy uses several 12-foot mirrors that curve upward, reflecting sunshine onto a pipe running just above the center of each mirror. HelioDynamics uses slabs of small, flat mirrors that reflect the sun’s rays onto a single pipe above them.

Both systems use computer-automated trackers to tilt the mirrors throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky.

The hot water in both systems is heated to temperatures just under 200 degrees and collected in a storage tank. Then it goes through an absorption chiller that cools the cold water used in the building’s fan units.

Non-solar systems use gas or electricity to heat the hot water before it goes through the chiller.

Sempra likes that the two solar systems can work alongside existing gas and electric systems, said Hal Snyder, vice president of customer solutions for SoCal Gas.

“People want renewable sources of energy, but we don’t think people want a switch that just happens overnight,” Snyder said. “By using gas or electricity as a backup, we’re not having to replace our infrastructure, and our customers know they won’t have to get into something experimental.”

The demonstrations are also helping developers of the technology, said Al Yuen, Sopogy’s director of corporate development.

“The gas company is giving us a stage to demonstrate what we can do for their customers,” Yuen said. “They bought our mirrors, bought our system, and now they’re using it and showing it off. It helps tremendously.”

Another benefit for the developers, Yuen said, is seeing the systems in daily use, up against competitors’ — with all the information shared.

This information from the project will be a deciding factor for most SoCal Gas and Sempra customers when the technology hits the market, Coca-Cola’s Phillips said.

“It’s easier to take that plunge when you have an example of the technology in place and you can point to numbers and say, ‘That’s effective, that saves money, that’s worth doing,’ ” he said.


Sopogy Named to the Always On Global 250 List

August 12, 2009


The AO Global 250 represents the best of emerging innovators and disrupters from all the technology sectors we cover, and therefore is our most distinguished annual competition.


Category Winner
Company Name: BrightSource Energy
Headquarters: Oakland, CA
CEO: John M. Woolard
Year Founded: 2004
Employees: > 100 (worldwide)
Investors Include: Google Ventures, VantagePoint Venture Partners, Statoil Hydro Venture, Black River, DBL Investors, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Chevron Technology Ventures, Morgan Stanley, BP Alternative Energy

Abound Solar
AbTech Industries
Amyris Biotechnologies
Aptera Motors
Bright Automotive
Evolutionary Genomics
GreatPoint Energy
HID Laboratories
Ice Energy
Miles Electric Vehicles
Premium Power
Range Fuels
Serious Materials
Silver Spring Networks
Synthetic Genomics
Tesla Motors
Wilson TurboPower

Sopogy at Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo 2009

August 3, 2009

The 2009 Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo will be held on August 31-September 3, 2009, in Honolulu, Hawaii, at the Sheraton Waikiki resort on world-famous Waikiki Beach.  Organizer of this conference is the state of Hawaii, in cooperation with the Defense Energy Support Center and U.S. Pacific Command.

The 2009 Asia Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo will center around  various renewable energy initiatives and policies throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  It will also include a trade show for innovative technologies, services and ideas.  The Department of Defense will also have a DOD day featuring plans and procurement opportunities for energy projects throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Hawaii is an ideal location for an Asia Pacific Energy Summit and Expo.  The Wall Street Journal noted that Hawaii, “a state better known for sun and fun, is quietly morphing into one of the world’s leading incubators of alternative energy.”  As a gateway for commerce in the Asia-Pacific region and a strategic center for the U.S. military, it is a natural gathering place for attendees to share views, efforts and commitments to enhance energy security and mitigate climate change through clean energy.   Presenters and participants will share renewable energy advances and common goals for increasing sustainable energy development and security, address concerns, exchange information, share experiences and exchange best practices.

The time is now for the nations of the Asia-Pacific region to work together to access clean and energy efficient technologies.  We hope to see you in Hawaii for what promises to be an exciting conference and trade show.

The 7th Korea-Pacific U.S. States Joint Conference will also be held in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit & Expo.  This portion of the Asia-Pacific Clean Energy Summit and Expo is sponsored by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA);  the Korea-U.S. Economic Council; and the states of Alaska, California,  Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.