How to Buy a Solar Air Conditioner
Published Dec. 11, 2017
As green energy increases in popularity and affordability, many homeowners are considering solar air conditioners above other cooling units. Before you commit to a solar air conditioner, discover what information is relevant to your final purchase decision.
How Does a Solar Air Conditioner Work?
A solar air conditioner combines solar electricity generation and air conditioning. It collects energy from the sun when it's at its brightest and uses it to cool a space during the hottest part of the day.
Available Solar Air Conditioner Options
Currently, the three types of solar air conditioner units available for use in central HVAC systems. Unlike electric air conditioners, solar air conditioners are not available as window-mount units. The three options for solar air conditioners are:
- Solar thermal hybrid system: This system saves powers by using solar energy to assist the compressor through the use of solar collector panels. Be aware that this system requires an electricity source to operate.
- Solar PV hybrid system: Using photovoltaic technology, this system turns the sun's energy into electricity for the unit to use. The electricity produced is stored in batteries which take over when the sun is not shining. This system has an alternating current (grid electricity) to charge the unit's batteries.
- Evaporative solar-powered conditioners: The most environmentally-friendly option, this system has a heat exchanger instead of a compressor and only uses electricity to power its fans, chillers, and hot water pumps. Without a compressor, this system is far more cost-efficient to operate. It's important to note that due to this system's use of only solar energy, it has limited functionality when it's dark.
Benefits of a Solar Air Conditioner
There are several benefits to installing a solar air conditioner in your home:
- Although the initial cost of setting up a solar air conditioner is high, the savings on monthly electricity bills for the lifespan of the unit make the investment well worth the upfront amount. You can enjoy additional savings by signing up for an incentive plan offered by the local and/or federal government (depending on where you live).
- Solar panels are considered an investment that increases the value of a property. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, each additional $1 in energy bill savings adds $20 to your home's total value. Solar air conditioners are less obtrusive than other cooling systems, such as a ductless air conditioner.
- There are many options available which include silent technology, allowing your product to be more than 50 percent quieter than a standard air conditioner.
Solar air conditioners offer significant environmental benefits. Standard air conditioners significantly contribute to the peak demand for electricity, shown by the following statistics compiled by Kompulsa:
- That 318-watt average AC unit uses up to 228 kWh per month. That would cost:
- $27.36 at an electricity rate of $0.12/kWh (this is the average electricity rate in the U.S.).
- $45.60 (€41.87) at a rate of $0.20/kWh. $0.20 is a common rate in Europe.
On the other hand, solar air conditioners offer peak load shifting, defined as, "the process of mitigating the effects of large energy loadblocks during a period of time by advancing or delaying their effects until the power supply system can readily accept additional load." This reduces stress on the grid which then reduces the total energy requirement.
Some solar air conditioners are so environmentally-friendly that they receive special recognition. For example, the Lennox XC25 model has been recognized as one of the Most Efficient ENERGY STAR certified products in 2017. The XC25 was certified because it actually prevents greenhouse gas emissions by meeting rigorous energy efficiency performance levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Solar power air conditioners have become more efficient year after year. For instance, the cost per watt of solar generation capacity has significantly reduced from approximately $7.50 in 1996 to $2 in 2008, to $1 in 2012. These prices may drop again in the future but not as significantly as in the past.
This form of air conditioning is energy efficient because of the inclusion of a solar panel. By collecting the radiation of the sun, less electricity is needed to operate the unit.
A study compared a solar power air conditioner and a variable drive air conditioner. It found that if a variable drive air conditioner is replaced by a solar-powered one, an average of 73.6 percent of the electrical energy consumed may be saved. These figures are based on installation in a residential home. Savings would be especially significant when implemented in a commercial unit.
While it is possible to install a solar air conditioner yourself, the process is in-depth and requires an expansive knowledge of HVAC systems and necessary safety precautions. In fact, installing your own solar air conditioner could cause a myriad of problems ranging from damaging the unit to serious self injury. Most experts recommend choosing an experienced contractor to handle the installation. For an idea of the installation cost, consider the service from HotSpot Energy, a Chesapeake, VA-based manufacturer, whose average cost is $5,200, including the panels. This price can drop by 30 percent if consumers take advantage of the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), available through 2019.
A limited warranty is usually offered on units. For example, the HSE air conditioner models ACDC12 and DC48 offer a one-year warranty on all parts and three years on the processor. However, longer warranties are available and it is advisable to ask your seller about the options before committing.