Solar AC Systems: How Do They Work?

    18 November 2021 – Australian Institute of Electrotechnology

For billions of years, the Sun has been the main source of energy for our planet. With technological innovations, we have been able to capture the sun’s power through photovoltaic cells and use it to fulfil our energy needs.

One of the most energy-intensive pieces of equipment in any home is our air conditioning system. When it comes to energy expenses, air conditioning can account for a big part of your bill especially in summer when temperatures rise and you need to use it more often.  Solar-powered air conditioning prices can be much lower in the long run compared to other air-conditioning solutions.

So, what’s the best solution to avoid paying too much for your power? Turing it off and trying to tolerate the heat is not really the best option. One of the best approaches would be to install solar panels and get solar air conditioning. Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic panels, absorb sunlight and convert it into electricity.

What is the process to get a solar air conditioning system? Let’s learn more about the technology behind it and see if it would be a suitable solution for your needs.

Solar AC for Homes

How Does a Solar Air Conditioner Work?

A solar panel is a device that harnesses the sun’s energy. It transforms solar energy into electricity. This energy can be used right away or stored in a battery. A solar-powered air conditioner then uses DC power to heat or cool your home, either directly or after conversion to AC (through an inverter).

Rather than relying on power from the grid, a solar-powered air conditioner can produce and use its own energy. It can, however, consume grid electricity if necessary.

What is the process for installing solar-powered air conditioning?

There are a variety of solar air conditioning technologies available. However, only a few would be suitable for the local household market.

Solar photovoltaic air conditioners turn sunlight into electricity using a solar array. The air conditioning device functions similarly to a traditional split system however it is powered by solar energy. When the solar energy sent to the system is insufficient, the battery array is charged using conventional electricity from the grid.

The need for solar-powered air conditioners is rising exponentially. 75% of households in Australia use air conditioning. The use of air conditioners makeup 6% of the total electricity usage in Australia and costs a whopping $29 billion annually.  This also emits 117 million metric tons of CO2 every year! Switching to solar-powered, energy-efficient air conditioning can help reduce our environmental impact while also saving money. Solar energy currently only accounts for 9% of the overall electricity production in Australia, so there is room for improvement.

Benefits of Solar Air Conditioning

Solar-powered air conditioners might be costly, but they offer several benefits especially in enhancing the value of your home:

  • Increases the property’s value
  • Peak load shifting lowers the total energy consumption.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
Roof top Solar for AC

Alternatives to Solar-Powered Air Conditioning

There are a few different options available within solar-powered air conditioners. These are different depending on how the air conditioner is powered. Those include:

  • DC Powered Solar Air Conditioners
  • AC Powered Solar Air Conditioners
  • Solar Air Conditioners with Hybrid Power

DC Powered Solar Air Conditioners

DC solar air conditioners, also known as traditional solar-powered air conditioners, run on direct current (DC) energy, which means the solar panels are directly connected to the panels. They can also run off-grid since they are powered by batteries that are charged by solar energy.

The disadvantage of such a system is that it would necessitate a large battery to keep it running at night. The alternative method is to convert AC electricity from the power grid to DC and run the air conditioner using rectifier equipment. Even so, it negates the purpose of having a solar-powered air conditioner!

AC Powered Solar Air Conditioners

The more commonly used solar air conditioner type uses alternating current. A device known as an inverter is necessary to run AC air conditioners with solar electricity, turning the DC from the solar panels into AC.

In this system, the inverter is a necessary component. After passing through the inverter, the current powering the air conditioner consumes the energy stored in the battery. As a result, solar air conditioners driven by AC offer the following benefits:

These air conditioners can also be connected to the electricity grid and used as traditional air conditioners. In addition, this air conditioner can run on AC power. Thus no additional equipment is necessary.

Solar Air Conditioners with Hybrid Power

Solar-powered air conditioners that are using hybrid power can run on both DC and AC at the same time. These units can be directly connected to solar panels/batteries and the grid simultaneously. The unit can then choose to use the appropriate power source depending on the time of day and the power load. This has several benefits:

  • There is no need for extra equipment, such as an inverter, resulting in lower overall expenses.
  • They can effortlessly switch between solar and grid power.
  • They can work at all hours of the day and in all seasons.

The main disadvantage of this method is that it will not work at night if your batteries are not charged and installed off-grid.

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