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Can I run air conditioning with solar power?

Francisco CastroJune 6, 20191730

Oh, summer! Barbecues, the beach or the lake, vacations, sandals and shorts. After a long winter and dreary weather, things are about to heat up across the county.

If you have recently installed solar, you’re probably asking if the solar panels on your property will be able to power that other aspect of summer - air conditioning to beat the heat.

Many in the hot and humid south, or the warm deserts of the Southwest, know that it’s nearly impossible to live without it in this time of the year.

Solar energy can indeed help you keep cool this summer, but there are some things you should be aware of.

Window vs. Central Air

When it comes to solar power running your air conditioning, much will depend on how often or for how long you need it to keep your house cool, as well as the size and efficiency of your air conditioning.

It will also matter whether we’re talking about a window unit or a central air. Window units are often smaller and consume less energy, so they will be easier to power with the energy coming from your solar panels. 

Bear in mind that air conditioning is one of the highest-energy consuming appliances in your home, often devouring kWh at a rapid rate. The average AC unit uses about 2,000 kilowatt-hours each year. With the average home using 10,812 kWh each year in total, that’s about 20% of all annual electricity use!

And - as you probably know, running an air conditioner certainly isn’t cheap; in fact, it can often represent 50% of your electricity bill. AC’s also need enough electric power to operate the pump, condenser, compressor, and expansion valve alongside the peripheral components.

For starters, either model will have a label noting how much power it draws when in use. The number will be displayed in watts (W). You can multiply that figure by the number of hours you plan to use the air conditioning and then dividing that number by 1,000 to generate a kWh estimate. 

As an example, the average air conditioner uses 1.3kw of power, and the average solar panel system ranges from 2kw to 4kw. So, if you decide to power an air conditioner or try and break-even with your home solar energy system, it is going to use up the vast majority of your solar energy.

Most central air conditioners use three to five kilowatts per hour. So chances are you won’t be able to keep your air conditioning going 24/7 with mere solar power. You will have to rely on the grid to keep your house cool. 

That is, unless you add more panels to your array. Your solar installer should provide you with a domestic solar power system that matches your annual energy needs. 

To find the appropriate size of solar array for your home or business, simply access the Hahasmart price checker. Provide your address and monthly electric costs and you will get an estimated price of the panels and inverter - the most expensive parts of a solar energy system. They’ll also provide you with an estimate for the cost of installation based on thousands of completed solar projects in your area. All you have to do is provide your address and your average monthly utility bill.

They’ll even provide you with an estimated buyback period, the point where the electricity savings cover the purchase of your residential solar panels and your system becomes free.
In addition, they’ll connect you with their installer network to get your residence equipped with solar power as possible.  

But if you have an air conditioning that you want to run on solar, you should also mention it, so he can estimate how many additional panels you will need just to power this appliance. 

For instance, if you need 3 kWh just to run the AC, and you have panels of 300 W each, you would need (3,000 / 300) 10 more modules. 

This works similarly if you decide to add air conditioning after the installation of your solar array. Just make sure you have enough space on your roof or ground-mount to accommodate the additional panels. 

Solar-powered air conditioners

Another option is solar-powered air conditioners. That is, AC units that run on solar energy. 

There are basically two types: small, independent units that you can use to cool a room or large systems for the whole house.

And they split into three varieties, notes Moore Heating and Air Conditioning:

Solar thermal hybrid air conditioners use solar energy to aid the compressor in the refrigeration process. Electricity is used to run the fans and the electric control components.
Solar PV hybrid air conditioners switch between solar power and battery power as needed. When the sun is shining brightly and producing plentiful energy resources, the hybrid air conditioner takes the opportunity to charge its batteries. When the sun is not available, the hybrid runs on its battery back-ups while charging batteries using alternating current (AC) electricity.
Absorption chillers use solar energy to power the fan and the motor in a heating and cooling process that uses water evaporation and condensation to produce cool air. Absorption chillers can be plugged in to run off of electricity or they can run off of batteries if desired.

The way they work is fairly similar. They are attached to solar panels that convert sunlight into the power to run them.

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