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How does an air conditioner actually work? - Anna Rothschild


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Typically, with any piece of technology, you pump one unit of energy in and you get about one out. That’s just the first law of thermodynamics: energy has to be conserved. But there’s a piece of technology called a heat pump, where for every bit of energy you put in, you get three to five times as much heat out. What wizardry is this? Anna Rothschild investigates the science of heat pumps.

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The Basics of Heat Pumps: Harnessing Thermal Energy

Heat pumps transfer heat from one place to another, making them highly efficient for heating and cooling purposes. They work on the principle of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat moves from hotter objects to colder ones. In essence, a heat pump extracts heat from the air, ground, or water and moves it indoors to warm your home during winter or reverses the process to cool your home in summer. This is achieved using a refrigerant that cycles through evaporation and condensation stages, absorbing and releasing heat.

Climate Benefits: A Green Alternative

Heat pumps are a climate-friendly alternative to traditional heating systems because they can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Traditional heaters, like oil and gas boilers, often rely on burning fossil fuels, contributing to CO2 emissions. In contrast, heat pumps use electricity, and as the energy grid increasingly incorporates renewable sources like wind and solar, the carbon footprint of heat pumps continues to decrease. Furthermore, heat pumps can achieve efficiency levels of up to 500%, producing five times the amount of heat for the energy they consume.

Scaling Up: Government and Industry Initiatives

Governments and companies worldwide are implementing various initiatives to promote the adoption of heat pumps. Many countries offer subsidies and incentives to offset the initial installation costs, making heat pumps more accessible to homeowners. For instance, the United States and several European countries have launched rebate programs and tax credits. In addition to governmental efforts, companies are investing in research to develop more efficient and environmentally friendly refrigerants and larger systems that can heat entire districts.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Anna Rothschild
  • Director Kevin Herrmann, AIM Creative Studios
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen
  • Storyboard Artist Kevin Herrmann
  • Illustrator Kevin Herrmann
  • Animator Kevin Herrmann, Jorge Ramos, Daniela Carvalho, André Cunha
  • Art Director Kevin Herrmann
  • Composer André Aires
  • Sound Designer André Aires
  • AIM Creative Studios Producer Tiago Ribeiro, Daniela Carvalho
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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