By Richard Travers
The answer to this question is revealed in the ancient Chinese view of the universe in which opposite and equal qualities form a dynamic whole. “Yang” literally means “sunny place”, while “yin” means “shady place”. We’re talking about the sun and the lack of sun. Using this line of thought, the opposite of the heat of a bright summer day is the cold of a dark winter’s night. The tropical and sunbaked regions near the equator are the opposite of the frigid poles. What form of energy is more plentiful in the shade, at night, in the winter, and at the poles? Give up?
Polar Energy, that’s what. Polar energy is yin to solar energy’s yang. It is the polar opposite of solar energy.
The sun is the source of energy, light and heat that living things need to survive. Polar energy can be thought of as the absence of solar energy. When we have less sun it gives us shade, night, and winter, essential factors in the life cycles of living things. With too much solar energy we would all die from the heat. With too little we would die from the cold. Just the right balance between these two extremes makes the earth hospitable to life in all its forms. Ours is the Goldilocks planet. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right.
We use solar energy to grow our crops, heat our homes and even to generate electricity. Polar energy is harnessed by humans and our technology in fewer obvious ways.
Low-tech tools such as opening windows can cool our houses at night.
Higher-tech tools include air conditioning systems that often use “economizers” to bring cool outside air into a building at times to save energy by running their compressors less.
My company Freeaire Refrigeration of Waitsfield, Vermont, manufactures energy-efficient commercial refrigeration systems for walk-in coolers, freezers and cold storage warehouses. A Freeaire® refrigeration system harnesses what we like to call Polar Powertm in a surprisingly direct and effective way: it brings winter air inside. A conventional commercial refrigeration system uses lots of expensive electricity to make cold air with a compressor, even in the winter. A Freeaire® system uses much less energy to run fans to move naturally cold outside air into the refrigerated space whenever the weather is cold enough. No matter how the electricity is generated we use Polar Powertm and other efficiency measures to conserve energy, generating “negawatts” that cancel out the megawatts. The return on investment for Freeaire® systems is usually much faster than for photovoltaic solar systems.
Our state is full of examples of how we Vermonters take advantage of one of polar energy’s most visible and versatile manifestations: snow. Snow sports abound here. When the natural variety is not adequate, ski areas can actively make snow to cover their slopes. Outdoor skating rinks often make their ice with an even simpler technology than passive solar that you might call “passive polar”. Just flood the rink and let the winter sky do its thing.
With the 45th parallel, halfway from the equator to the North Pole, passing through our state, Vermont lies in the temperate overlap of the solar south and the polar north. Even one of our favorite agricultural products, maple syrup, is best made when the days are warm but the nights are cold.
It is time to recognize that polar energy has been and should continue to be an important part of our state’s energy mix. It’s time to officially give polar energy the recognition as a legitimate form of renewable energy. Polar Powertm to the People!