The ACES Alternative Water Energy System

A team of engineers designed, constructed, and tested the ACES alternative water energy system using a water tank to cool a house in summer as well as heat a house in winter.

| September/October 1975

There's an old saying used to describe impractical ideas — "That heats about as well as ice in winter" — which may have just become outdated.

Outdated because a team of engineers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have designed, constructed, and are currently testing a water energy system that actually does heat a house in winter by turning water into ice. Then, to add frosting to the cake, the water energy system turns right around and uses that same ice to inexpensively air condition the building during the summer!

This seemingly magical process — which is known as the Annual Cycle Energy System (or ACES, for short) — is not based on magic at all. Rather, it is firmly founded on two very scientific speculations.

The first of these assumptions went something like this: "Although heating and cooling always go hand in hand in theory, real life systems only seem to use one of the two. Can't heating and cooling be combined into one system?"

Speculation No. 2 hinged on the fact that throughout most of the United States — from Georgia to the Northern Plains — cold and hot seasons are about equally long. "Wouldn't it be something," wondered the Oak Ridge technicians, "if we could come up with a simple way of storing 'excess' summer heat for use in the winter and 'extra' winter cold for summer cooling?"

And that's exactly what the Oak Ridge engineers did. They found a way to use the summer sun to heat a home in winter and to cool the same dwelling through a sweltering summer with winter ice. How? By figuring out a way to extract both heat and cold from a single energy system built around a big tank of water and a heat pump.

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