It’s easy to forget about air conditioning. A/C units are found just about everywhere in Southeast Asia. No one ever notices them until there is a problem. However, COVID-19 is changing the way we think about our entire routine and this includes air conditioning.
Derek Williamson, a Vice President at one of Asia Pacific’s largest cement manufacturers, noted that air conditioning is ubiquitous, although the public doesn’t realize the true impact it can have beyond the fact A/C units make the places we inhabit more comfortable.
“When you look around, you will find all types of A/C units. No matter the size, cooling system or price, all of them have one thing in common – directional air flow! Air blows from air conditioning in homes, schools, movie theaters, malls and anywhere else with an A/C unit,” Williamson explained. “All those public places are closed in most countries right now, but as we prepare to reopen, we should think about the role air conditioning plays when it comes to preventing the spread of viruses.”
As Williamson pointed out, A/C units are found everywhere. There are large units found high above us in the 15-meter ceilings of shopping malls. The standard 3.5-meter ceiling condo unit that can be found just about everywhere in the region has a much smaller A/C system in place. There may be a large discrepancy when it comes to cooling power, but they both work on a similar principle. That is blowing cold air around the available space to bring the average temperature down to the level where most of us are comfortable.
“Before COVID-19, no one thought much about all that air blowing around in a public place. But imagine you have an infected person in the room with hundreds of liters of airflow per minute moving in a rather random manner throughout the space. I think you can see what I am getting at here,” Williamson said.
Air conditioning alternatives in a post COVID-19 world
We are all familiar with social distancing by now. As we’ve seen in recent months, it is a very effective tool in preventing a disease from spreading. But it’s not nearly as powerful if you turn on those A/C units and start blowing air all around. There is an alternative, but according to Williamson, the solution isn’t partially filtering virus-infected air while blowing a massive volume of clean air around a venue.
“The alternatives already exist and have been around for a long time. In fact, they can already be found inside Thailand’s famous Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The temperature inside the terminal isn’t moderated by massive A/C units blowing air around, but by coldness coming out of the facility’s concrete floor and concrete ceiling,” Williamson detailed. “This creates a radiation effect similar to being in a refrigerator.”
He continues, “Of course, you’re probably wondering how exactly this works. In a nutshell, chilled water runs through pipes inside the concrete which has excellent heat absorption properties that allow it to store and subsequently radiate low temperatures into the building. This reduces the need for large fans blowing cold air around a building, lessening the risk that viruses travel away from the infected person.”
For many buildings owner or developers launching new projects, this cooling technique presents a unique alternative to traditional air conditioning. It does require investment as you’ll first need to review designs and then purchase and install the pipes. However, Williamson believes the upside far outweighs the initial costs.
“COVID-19 has made people more aware of airborne diseases and how they are spread. People won’t want to congregate in buildings where they are more at risk. This is a real, proven alternative to traditional air conditioning. I have been involved with a couple projects in Southeast Asia and a significant number of future buildings are already adopting the technology,” Williamson pointed out. “In the meantime, let’s look forward to a nice and simple dinner with real chairs and tables in our favorite restaurant. But for all of our sakes, let’s hope they turn the A/C off!”