Engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute, Germany’s renewable energy skunkworks, have developed an elegantly simple exterior covering for buildings that heat and cool the rooms inside, slashing energy use and boosting efficiency.
The cladding is made of up solar panels that can be as large as roughly four feet by 12 inches.
Each panel can power a small heat pump inside the room that the cladding fronts. The heat pump yields three or four units of heat for every unit of electricity the exterior panel delivers.
In hot weather, the sun-powered pump uses coils filled with refrigerant to extract the heat from the room and transfer it outside.
The pumps can be connected to a building’s electric-grid system or building-scale battery storage bank so they work just as effectively when the sky is dark.
Fraunhofer designed the panels to easily retrofit onto most office buildings built since the 1950s, when glass and steel exteriors began to replace brick. They say that the work could be completed without anyone having to leave their offices.
According to the group’s calculations, if 30 percent of Germany’s office buildings built between 1950 and 1990 were outfitted with the new panels and pumps, the amount of electricity used to heat and cool them would shrink from 3,200 gigawatt hours per year to 600, a savings of better than 80 percent.
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