Thermoelectric Power Generation: Harnessing Solar Thermal Energy to Power an Air Conditioner
(1) Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rancho Palos Verdes, California, (2) California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco, California
We researched the feasibility of using thermoelectric modules as a power source and as an air conditioner to decrease reliance on fossil fuels. Thermoelectric modules have a “hot side” and a “cold side.” Based on the Seebeck Effect, when the hot side is heated, and the cold side is cooled, the module generates a voltage. Based on the Peltier Effect, when a voltage is applied to a module, the hot side becomes hot, and the cold side becomes cold. We constructed a “battery” using thermoelectric modules operating in the Seebeck Effect: solar thermal energy was used to heat the hot side, and tap water was used to cool the cold side to generate a voltage. The battery was then used to power a “thermoelectric air conditioner” made of one thermoelectric module operating in the Peltier Effect, where the cold side of the module absorbs ambient heat like a traditional air conditioner. We hypothesized that the battery would generate more power per square inch than a solar panel and that the thermoelectric air conditioner would operate without voltage regulation. The results showed that, at its peak, the battery generated 27% more power – in watts per square inch – than a solar panel, and the thermoelectric air conditioner operated despite an unsteady input voltage. The battery has incredible potential, especially if its peak power output can be maintained. However, the thermoelectric air conditioner is a viable alternative to commercial air conditioners only when space is an extreme limiting factor.
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