By Omar L. Gallaga, Contributor to Aunt Bertha
We’ve got smartphones, GPS everywhere, amazing digital assistants that do our bidding via voice command, and robots ready to take over the world. But we’re still sweating. A lot. It’s a problem.
Every summer is a harsh reminder that as advanced as our technology has gotten, we’re still trying to solve the basic problem of combating heat that can exceed 100 degrees in many parts of the country, and which can be a major health risk, particularly in cities where many aren’t readily equipped with reliable central air.
Researchers are trying to find some innovative solutions to cooling, which can consume massive amounts of energy when so many of us are blasting our air conditioning. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy says that cooling alone makes up about 9 percent of the average home’s energy consumption.
The Office says that it’s keeping an eye on several innovations that could ease up on energy usage and revolutionize the way we beat the heat.
It pointed to ways that reducing refrigerant leaks, combining devices such as water heaters, dehumidifiers and air coolers into one unit, or developing solid-state heat pumps may solve some of the problems inherent in current HVAC systems. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee is working on an energy storage system that utilizes waste-heat to improve HVAC performance by 35 percent.
But most interesting in the Office’s roundup is the idea of a membrane-based rooftop air conditioner that would use water instead of chemicals and save 30 to 50 percent in electricity consumption.
Lest you think the only people working on getting you cooler are government agencies and researchers, the free market has plenty of entrepreneurs who think they have solutions, such as Octocool, a company that sells clothing with cooling systems built in. Do they have fans built in that run on rechargeable batteries? Yes, they do.
Other kind of active cooling wear utilize special materials to draw heat away from the body, such as Arctic Wear’s line of cooling shirts.
Evaporative cooling systems have become popular the last few years; they work by cooling using moisture in the air. They can run anywhere from $150 to $400 and there’s some debate as to whether their limited range is worth the cost; some are meant to only cool a single small room, similar to an air-conditioning window unit.
Sometimes the simplest ways to stay cool, however, are the least expensive. Knowing what kind of temperature and humidity you’re dealing with is important and there are plenty of deep-dive free apps that can give you a better idea of the temperature than your phone’s built-in app weather app. “Thermometer,” which aggregates an average temperature from several sources, is a good one to try out. “Smart Thermometer” for Android uses the phone’s built-in temperature sensor.
For resources on programs for free or discounted fans and A/C units, you can always try Aunt Bertha’s search engine as well for programs in your area.
Omar L. Gallaga is a veteran technology and culture writer who’s written for the Austin American-Statesman, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, NPR’s “All Things Considered,” CNN.com and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in New Braunfels, Texas, where he keeps cool in the summer by tubing the Comal River.