By Mike Sokol
As part of my continuing effort to help you avoid electrical gadget schemes, here’s an interesting one that was emailed to me a few days ago about a magic air conditioner that runs from USB power (less than 5 watts) and supposedly cools your entire office area.
According to all the marketing hype, this gadget will help save the planet because you’ll no longer have to spend thousands of dollars on an “evil” conventional air conditioner, and won’t have to pay the utility company hundreds of dollars a month in electric bills.
So, could this be true? Do these German scientists know more than all the other air conditioning designers and manufacturers in the world? Or is this an elaborate plot by the air conditioner cartel to keep you buying expensive air conditioners for your home and RV, when all you need is this little cube sitting on your desk plugged into your laptop USB port?
Save your money
Yes, this is just one more effort to separate you from your hard-earned money, so don’t fall for it. Considering that something like 10% of the entire world’s electrical power is used for climate control, don’t you think if there was some cheap and simple way to reduce that number by some 99% that the entire industry would be grabbing onto it?
Just like gasoline magnets that are supposed to improve your MPG by 50% and electricity “cleaners” that claim to reduce your power company bills by 95%, this is simply bogus advertising – so don’t fall for it.
If wishes were horses…
Yes, my favorite quote about technology is: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Science is just science, and no matter how badly I might wish for something, the laws of physics are unbreakable. The greatest minds in the world have been working on air conditioner technology for more than 100 years. And, yes, even Albert Einstein held a patent on a refrigeration unit with no moving parts. See, he wasn’t just a one-trick pony. AE studied all sorts of things.
Yes, you may be able to find a way to negotiate around the laws of physics at times (which is why heat pumps are more efficient than resistance heating), but there’s no way to ignore thermodynamics.
So does this magic air conditioner work at all?
Well, sorta kind of. It’s essentially a fan in a box that you add water to that creates a mist. And if you know your science, to evaporate water you need to add energy in the form of heat. And that creates a cooling effect exactly like splashing water on your face and fanning it, or even using your own body’s air conditioning system: sweat glands and a breeze.
Yup, this so-called magic air conditioner sprays you with a mist of water in a breeze. So if the room isn’t too hot and has low humidity, you might get a little local cooling effect. But no more so than a water bottle fan, or even flapping your arms to dry your own sweat.
Enter the swamp cooler
For those of you who live in a desert environment, you can actually get a large version of this called a swamp cooler. Its real name is an Evaporative Cooler, which is used in hot and dry warehouses all the time. As you can see, this is a lot larger and uses much more power than the imaginary air conditioner powered by a USB port.
But Evaporative Coolers only work in low humidity and will try to turn your room into a tropical rain forest. Again, they might be useful under some circumstances, but they’re largely impractical for most of us most of the time. And an evaporative cooler (aka swamp cooler) certainly won’t replace a rooftop RV air conditioner where we want to REMOVE humidity, not ADD humidity.
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