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Snow Is the New Air Conditioning

Hate winter? Some good news: Researchers are finding something really useful to do with excessive snow.


As a long-time New Englander, winter means snow. Snow means ski season––and that makes me a big fan of winter. But let’s face it, lots of people dread the white stuff and the cold that comes along with it. But what if it saved you money?

Imagine if you could use excessive snowfall for a more economical and energy-efficient alternative to air conditioning during wamer months.

Reseachers have found a way to do just that. A Popular Science article chronicles the work of a pair of Canadian scientists who published a recent study in the “Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy” journal exploring how to best leverage snow for cooling. Through a computer modeling exercise, the researchers found that directing a building’s air handling units through a huge mass of snow collected from roads and walkways over the course of the winter lowers the need to use traditional air conditioning as the weather warms. To accommodate such an approach, existing air conditioning systems would have to be retrofited with additional technology along the lines of what happens with geothermal heating and cooling offerings.

In areas such as Canada where there is consistently heavy snow falls, such a system can be just as effective in cooling while also having far less of an environmental impact than conventional air conditioning. The researchers found the technology proven to work, but they also admitted that the economic feasibility is climate-dependent based on how much snow an area gets or how much air conditioning is required during the warm weather seasons.

The concept has already been put to work in several countries. The Popular Science article reported that the Japanese island of Hokkaido is harvesting and storing snow to keep food cold and for air conditioning, and the Swedish town of Sundsvall has what’s believed to be the first of its kind snow cooling plant for its county hospital.

(Now if there were just a way to channel a polar vortex for some good!)

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