TUCSON, Ariz. — In what is said to be a first for a United States university, a new system installed on the University of Arizona campus is using solar energy not only for heating but also for cooling.

At the heart of the solar thermal cooling and pool heating system is an array of 346 argon-filled vacuum tube solar thermal collectors installed on the roof of the University of Arizona’s Student Recreation Center.

The collectors utilize heat from the sun as a free energy source to drive an absorption chiller system to help keep buildings on campus cool while also heating the recreation center’s main swimming pool.

“A water-glycol mix heated by the sun is pumped through the absorption cooler to produce chilled water that is fed into the university’s main chilled water loop to provide cooling for campus buildings,” said Ralph Banks, assistant director for engineering at the University of Arizona’s Planning, Design and Construction Office and manager of its Solar Initiative Project.

“A byproduct of the absorption process is excess heat, which is subsequently used to heat the recreation center’s main pool,” Banks said.

According to Banks, heating a large swimming pool, like the recreation center’s main pool, requires large amounts of energy for much of the year. The solar thermal array provides a third of the energy needed to heat the pool and offsets the use of natural gas heating.

“The benefit lies in utilizing solar energy in two ways: heating the pool and cooling buildings on campus,’” Banks said. “To our knowledge, no other university campus in the U.S. uses solar energy in this unique application.”

Publication date: 11/21/2011