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Green Building News

Piano Factory Installs Solar Air Conditioning System

Parabolic-trough solar collectors on the roof of the Steinway & Sons piano factory in Queens are part of a new air conditioning system. Since the system is not yet operational, the collectors are pointed away from the sun.
Image Credit: Steinway & Sons

Solar Thermal Collectors Will Cool Steinway Factory

QUEENS, NY — The Steinway & Sons piano factory in Queens will soon be cooled by an 80-ton absorption chiller connected to a rooftop solar thermal array. According to Steinway, the installation is the world’s largest solar cooling system.

Absorption chillers employ a cooling cycle based on ammonia and water. Examples of absorption coolers include Servel propane-fueled refrigerators and Robur ammonia absorption air conditioners. Although most absorption chillers are fueled by natural gas, other sources of heat, including solar thermal heat, can be used to drive the ammonia absorption cycle.

Steinway’s new solar cooling system uses parabolic-trough solar collectors that focus the sun’s rays on tubing filled with a water/glycol mix. On a sunny day, the fluid reaches 350°F. In winter, the solar collectors will provide space heating for the piano factory. “It’s critical that we find energy-efficient ways to dehumidify our plant, and the solar panels are the answer,” said Steinway’s facilities manager, Bill Rigos.

The $875,000 solar cooling system is a demonstration project funded by a $588,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and $266,000 in federal solar-energy tax credits. Since Steinway’s system cost $10,937 per ton of cooling, the equipment is clearly more expensive than a conventional air conditioning system.


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