Radiant cooling may replace ACs, cut Covid risk: Study

New York, April 22 : A novel system of chilled panels that can replace air conditioning can also help reduce the risk of indoor disease transmission, suggests a new research.

A team of researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) computed air conditioning requirements in 60 of the world's most populous cities -- with the additional ventilation required due to Covid-19. Then, they compared the energy costs with their cooling method, using the chilled panels and natural ventilation.

The results, published in the Covid-19 edition of Applied Energy, showed that the alternative solution can save up to 45 per cent of the required energy, while ensuring building occupants are comfortable and rooms are adequately refreshed.

Many public health guidelines, as well as building industry bodies, recommend increasing the flow of fresh, outdoor air into buildings in order to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 and other diseases, said Adam Rysanek, Professor in the school of architecture and landscape architecture at UBC.

"However, if we continue to rely on conventional HVAC systems to increase indoor fresh air rates, we may actually double energy consumption. That's the nature of conventional HVAC," Rysanek said.

The new types of radiant cooling systems allow people to keep their windows open even when it's hot outside. These alternative systems can provide a sufficient level of thermal comfort, increase protection against disease while lessening the impact on the environment.

The team demonstrated their cooling system in the hot and humid climate of Singapore. They built a public pavilion featuring a system of chilled tubes enclosed within a condensation-preventing membrane. This allowed occupants to feel comfortable, and even cold, without changing the air temperature surrounding the human body.

The experiment will be conducted in Toronto, Beijing, Miami, Mumbai, New York and Paris -- regions where peak summer temperatures soar past 35 degrees Celsius.

Though chilled panel systems have been around for decades, adding the special membrane devised by the research team could be the key to making it a commercially viable alternative to traditional HVAC systems in all climates, Rysanek noted.