With summer approaching and the specter of the season of AC-driven energy bills that can make you swear you’re getting price gouged, you may be looking for ways to break out of this annual cycle. The cost of going solar has been reduced dramatically over the past decade and is now a practical option for most people to both reduce their energy bills in the long run and save the planet. Considering the substantial energy consumption of air conditioning, you may be wondering if solar is up to the task.
So, can a solar panel run an air conditioner? Air conditioners can run off a solar panel system so long as you have an adequate power to match the AC’s consumption. A typical air conditioner uses between 1.2kw-2.5kw of electricity, while the average solar panel system produces 2kw-4kw.
There are also air conditioning units available that are powered directly by solar – while the rest of the house isn’t powered by solar. You can even solarize an RV and run AC through that. This article will discuss the many different options for powering an air conditioning unit with solar energy and the considerations to think about for each.
AC Getting Power From the House
I’m not going to beat around the bush: getting solar-powered air conditioning isn’t going to be cheap.
Prices are improving and it will pay off in the long run, but…you may be looking at a price tag between $2,000-$11,000 to get started.
Most people may instead want to go all-in and solarize their whole home. Of course, how you go about doing this has implications for powering your AC. Let’s take a look at an on-grid setup, off-grid setup, and adding air conditioning to an already-solar-powered home.
Most solarized homes still connect to the energy grid. The energy produced by your panels doesn’t go straight into your home. Instead, it goes to the grid first and then into your home, just like a non-solar home.
The difference is that the grid operator keeps track of how much energy you’re adding to and removing from the grid and will bill you accordingly. You are charged for consumption beyond your production and paid for excess output that you don’t use.
This system is nice because the grid operates as a battery for you. It lets you power your home at night (when the panels aren’t producing) while also giving you coverage if you go over the demand your system is designed to meet.
The most significant consideration regarding air conditioning in this system is ensuring it’s designed with enough power output to provide for all your energy needs, not just AC. While you can still rely on the grid to cover you, the point is not to do that. So it’s essential to accurately assess your needs and design the proper system to handle them.
In an off-grid solarized home, you’re a little more independent, but that also means you don’t have the grid’s coverage. You also don’t have any way to power your home at night unless you have a battery in your system.
An on-grid house can draw from the grid at night, while an off-grid home relies on a battery charged by the solar panels during the day that can be drawn from at night when they’re not producing.
A few factors limit an off-grid system:
- You’ll need panels powerful enough to provide what you need during the day and save for the night.
- You’ll also want a battery that is big enough to get you through one night and provide coverage for days that you consume more than expected.
- Just as with the on-grid option, you’ll want to properly assess your consumption needs to identify how large your panel and battery systems need to be. You need to be even more precise with it as you won’t have any fallback if you consume more than your panels and batteries can handle.
Adding AC to an Already-Solarized Home
If you already have solar power in your home and want to add air conditioning, you’ll need to see whether your system has enough extra production capacity to deal with the added demand.
If there’s enough of a buffer, you’re all set. But don’t worry if you don’t because it’s not the end of the road!
Check with your installation company to see if they can add additional capacity to your system. If you don’t have enough roof space for this, you have two main options:
- Do a home energy audit and see if there are any other modifications you can make to bring down your consumption enough to accommodate a new AC.
- Invest in a solar-powered AC unit.
Powering the Air Conditioning Unit Independent of Your Home
If you can’t add AC to your solarized home or want solar-powered AC without solarizing your whole house, you can get AC units directly powered from a solar panel.
Keep reading about AC, DC, and inverters because they are important considerations when considering this option.
AC, DC, and Inverters
Not all electricity is made the same. There are two current types, AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current), and they do not cooperate!
You can’t power a device designed for AC with DC and vice versa. Most electronics and appliances (including most air conditioners) operate on AC, whereas solar panels produce electricity in DC.
An inverter is needed to convert the solar-made DC electricity into usable AC.
You can find solar-powered air conditioners that operate on AC, DC, or are hybrids (using both AC and DC). AC units will require an inverter but are more common on the market (they can also be repurposed to hook up to the grid). DC and hybrid current units do not require an inverter, but they are far less common (and a DC unit could not connect to the grid without an inverter).
There are plenty of options available if you want to power your air conditioning with solar energy. The main concern is ensuring you have enough energy from your solar system to power the air conditioning’s significant demand.