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Future of thermal comfort in an energy-constrained world

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Law, TO (2012) Future of thermal comfort in an energy-constrained world. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

In the context of global warming the sum of current trajectories, known as the 'business as
usual' scenario, is generally compared unfavourably to alternative low-carbon scenarios.
One of these trajectories sees the continuation of an unabated demand for air-conditioning
with its inevitable increase in energy consumption. This thesis proposes strategies to
ameliorate this problem in the difficult context of a knowledge-based economy in an
equatorial climate.
It begins by retracing the emergence of thermal comfort standards in consumer societies,
typified by the pursuit of individualistic interests. It identifies a gap that can explain why
the scientifically valid adaptive comfort standard has not stemmed the continuous growth
in air-conditioning demand, especially in knowledge-based economies. It is proposed that
the nexus is brain cooling and while some studies have acknowledged, it has been too
complex to quantify in existing comfort models. With the high variability of individual
comfort demands, this thesis argues that future provisions of thermal comfort will be
achieved by facilitating personal control over the microclimate.
A number of innovations are explored through cycles of action research, and the underlying
problems are then crystallised. A successful innovation has to appeal to the business
interests of key decision makers, conform to consumer interests of improved thermal
comfort and address the need to conserve energy.
This has led to the development of a whole building solution (the Rain Tower), a floor-by-floor
approach (a desiccant wheel AHU) and finally, cooling by means of a personal air-conditioning
system called the Ductless Task Air-Conditioning (DTAC) system. The DTAC
technology, meeting the criteria for commercialisation, was subsequently prototyped and
its performance measured. Further refinements were made before undertaking a pilot study
to field trial the system in naturally ventilated offices and a climate controlled room. The
results are analysed statistically to quantify its improvement to sensation and comfort.
Whilst this thesis emerges from an architectural science platform with a primary interest in
thermal comfort, it draws on the disciplines of engineering, sociology, physiology and
business to frame and propose viable solutions to this complex real world problem.
This thesis studies the behaviours that persist in the business-as-usual scenario and the
reasons for the difficulties in changing attitudes. Technologies are then developed to reduce
the environmental impact of air-conditioning whilst conforming to current and future
expectations of thermal comfort.
The results of the research demonstrate that thermal comfort, with reduced carbon
emissions compared with conventional air-conditioning, can be provided for workers in
knowledge-based economies in hot humid equatorial climates.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: thermal comfort, energy, air-conditioning, personalised ventilation
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2012 the author

Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2013 03:06
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2017 00:59
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