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Research says seawater air conditioning could cool coastal cities

There’s no better feeling than a cool dip in the ocean on a hot day, but what if this same idea could be used to cool our home and buildings? A new study from the International Institute of Applied System Analysis (IIASA) showed that seawater air conditioning (SWAC) could be a greener alternative to conventional cooling systems. 

So how does it work? The study analyzed the scaled possibility of exchanging cool water from 700-1,200 meters deep in the ocean with a heating system to produce cool air in buildings. The researchers found that one cubic meter of seawater produced the same energy as 21 wind turbines. 

Once they established the feasibility of the technology, the researchers developed a computer model to determine where in the world this technology would be beneficial. They found that cooling costs would drop over 75 percent in some coastal cities if they employed SWAC. 

The most applicable uses for this technology would be in large coastal buildings like airports, hotels, and resorts, which rely on high amounts of power for cooling operations. One benefit is that the technology allows cooling systems to be expanded with minimal updates to infrastructure. 

Although this is a potentially revolutionary approach to reducing emissions from air conditioning, it is not without risks. The systems would have to be highly regulated and monitored to ensure they did not disrupt marine ecosystems where the water was being sourced and transported.

If these obstacles are managed, lead author of the study Julian Hunt says, “Seawater air-conditioning is an innovative and sustainable technology that has great potential for expanding into a benchmark system for cooling in tropical locations close to the deep sea and will help fulfill our cooling needs in a warming world.”

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