Solar Powered Air Conditioners: A Comprehensive Guide
The Sun has been a source of energy in our cosmic system for billions of years. The history of humans using the Sun as an energy source is as old as mankind itself. It helps to grow food, for warmth, for fire, and for other uses across different continents. With the passage of time and advancement in technology though, we have been able to harness the immense potential of the sun in the form of photovoltaic cells and use it for much greater purposes.
The Suns rays can now be converted into electricity, and be used to power our homes and appliances at a fraction of the environmental impact as compared to conventional sources. In this era of sustainability, this serves as a major driver for the growth of solar power. What started as a niche application of this concept, has now turned into mass scale implementation of solar power.
One such application of this renewable energy source is in air conditioning, through solar air conditioners. These heating and cooling appliances can work by using the sun as an energy source. Reduced energy bills and minimal environmental impact are just some of the benefits which this energy source provides. Lets read on and find out all there is to know about solar air conditioning.
Dc Powered Solar Air Conditioners
DC solar air conditioners are also called conventional solar powered air conditioners.
Solar panels generate DC current electricity. Here are the pros and cons:
- DC solar air conditioners can be direct-wired to the panels without converting it.
- Batteries can be added to the system to store excess solar power produced, but only if you have enough panel wattage to run the air conditioner and store energy.
- DIY installation is easier with this type. If you hire a pro, installation cost is less.
- Systems are easy to maintain.
- They are ideal for off-grid use but only if you add the extra equipment described in the cons.
- DC solar ACs are easy to maintain.
- A DC-powered solar air conditioner needs batteries, an inverter and solar charge controller to work in non-daylight hours so it costs more than an AC unit.
- A vacuum pump is usually needed to charge the system with refrigerant if/when needed.
The bottom line is that if youre off the grid and are OK with no air conditioning after dark, a DC solar air conditioner is a good choice.
Using An Rv Alternator
An alternator is a generator that converts mechanical energy into alternating current. When running, the RVs engine spins the alternator and charges the battery, which powers the electrical appliances. However, the alternator isnt a reliable way of producing power since it quickly wears out with usage. Hence, it should be used only as a backup option.
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Choosing The Size Of Your Solar Components To Power An Rv Air Conditioner
For starters, youll need to know how many amps your air conditioner pulls during operation. Many RVs come with a standard air conditioning unit with a 13,500 BTU rating.
There are, however, certain RVs with larger A/C units rated much higher.
For the purposes of the calculations throughout the remainder of this section, were going to use averages for a 13,500 BTU air conditioning unit.
If your RVs electrical panel has an LED display that tells you how many amps youre pulling, figuring out your draw might be as simple as turning on your A/C unit and reading the display.
However, this could also be a great opportunity to employ an RV surge protector with an LED display if your rigs electrical panel doesnt have a built-in LED monitor.
Once you know how many amps your air conditioning pulls at different settings, youll have a few figures to work with as you determine the size of the various components youll need for your solar energy installation.
Why We Need Solar Powered Air Conditioners
The need for solar-powered air conditioners is vital considering how according to energy.gov, three-quarters of homes in the US use air conditioning which consumes about 6% of total electricity usage costing $29 billion annually and releasing 117 million metric tons of CO2! Switching to solar powered energy-efficient air conditioning can help decrease the load from the environment and save considerable amounts of money.
Currently, as of 2020, solar energy only accounts for 2.4% of total electricity use.
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Event Solar And Wind Off
This unique product does not need any other power sources and runs on DC power. It requires an additional battery system to ensure steady constant operation. It has a variable speed, alterable capacity and you can also control the refrigerant air flow. Solar panels, charge controller and batteries are needed to run this unit. Assuming that you are living in an area where you have at least 5 hours of sunshine, 4 250W solar panels and four 12V 130aH Deep cycle batteries, will provide you with 10 hours of solar air conditioning per day.
- Not suitable for off-grid units
How Does Solar Power Air Conditioning Work
Solar panels have so much potential to help provide the vital energy requirements of the modern world. With a growing population, climate change and its various impacts, and only so much left in our fossil fuel reserves, the reality is that we need as many forms of clean energy as possible. One of these forms, solar, is already widely available and has a wide range of uses including air conditioning our homes.
So How Can I Use Solar to Power My Air Conditioner?
Good question! There are actually many ways that we can combine solar and air conditioning technologies. The most common method, and the one that you may be the most familiar with, is using photovoltaic panels to produce electricity, and then using that electricity to power a normal air conditioning unit. Other ways that you can use solar power to condition your home include passive solar, using desiccants for solar open-loop air conditioning and closed loop solar absorption cooling. Each of these solar powered solutions can be advantageous in different situations.
Air Conditioning with Solar Panels
Solar Air Conditioning Can Work in Many Different Ways
As far as other measures go, you need to consider your climate and what rebates are available from your government. Some technologies may be cheaper and more efficient, however if a rival one has a greater government rebate, it may work out more cost effective to go with the less efficient system.
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Power Inverter For Rv Air Conditioner
So, now you have your 12V battery system sized up, but the air conditioner is asking for 120V powerthats where the power inverter comes into play.
A power inverter turns that 12V power into 120V that your AC unit can digest. Finding an inverter is simple, as it just needs to be rated for at least the amount of power that will be running through it. In our case, a 2000W power inverter should handle the job with ease.
What About Soft Start Systems
If youre not willing to invest in an RV solar power system thats larger than average, consdier an A/C/ soft starter. This will allow you to have a smaller inverter to supply power to your RVs air conditioner. Heres how it works according to Doug Curtis from SoftStart RV:
The SoftStartRV is an innovative device that gently smooths-out the startup power demand of the RV air conditioners compressor. The SoftStartRV reduces startup power demand up to an amazing 70% and it solves those A/C startup problems.
Top 7 Questions About A/C Soft Starters Answered, CamperReport.com
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The Titan By Point Zero Energy
This is about the most versatile portable solar generator on the market today. The brand lays claim in having built it with one of the most efficient, quality components available in the solar energy industry. The Titan is designed to provide a reliable solar backup for any situation. Apparently, it is made to consistently and reliably take care of your air conditioner needs. Here are some of the major features that make it different from other solar generator models.
The Pros Of Solar Panels For Rv
The biggest advantage of solar energy is renewability. Every day, the sun is going to rise, even if its cloudy and your installation isnt able to function at optimal efficiency.
Putting the question of whether or not there are clouds in the sky to the side, the biggest benefit of solar energy is that its 100% renewable.
Another benefit of solar energy is decreased reliance on the electric grid. For most RVers, the ability to plug in often dictates our travel itineraries.
Even when its not operating at 100% efficiency, solar energy can reduce your overall electricity costs and give you more freedom to explore remote locations.
Solar energy can also be used for a variety of applications. While were focusing on using solar power for RV air conditioners in this article, solar energy can also be used for heating and other electrical applications.
Lastly, solar energy also requires very little maintenance. Once you have your panels installed and wiring run correctly, youll probably only need to worry about cleaning your panels off three or four times a year to keep them operating efficiently.
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Air Conditioner Surge Current
When an a.c. motor starts it pulls several times more current than when it runs continuously.
This running current will be dependent on the load, but the surge or inrush current is the highest amps the motor pulls, unless the motor is locked solid and cant move at all
The size of the wiring is based on maximum current when running plus 10%. Surge currents only last for a few seconds normally and the heating effect in the wiring isnt significant.
However, breakers and fuses need to be sized accordingly, so that they can accomodate this surge without tripping out.
This also has important implications for any solar panel system designed to run air conditioning.
If running during the day without a battery bank used as an energy reservoir, the solar panels wattage rating needs to be big enough to supply this motor surge current.
Solar panel systems designed to run home appliances make use of a device called an inverter to change d.c. voltage produced by solar panels into the a.c. power for domestic use.
Solar panels can only run air conditioning using an inverter
Powering An Air Conditioner With A Solar Generator
As you know by now, the main issue with powering air conditioning is the fact that they use up a lot of electric supply. On average, an air conditioner uses 1.3kW of power and the average solar panel system that is being manufactured ranges from 2kW to 4kW. Little wonder why you shouldnt power an air conditioner amongst other appliances all at once, especially when the solar generator is running at on 2kW or below.
A critical look at power consumption for air conditioners shows that your solar panel system would need to be 3kW just to hit the ground running. This is because some air conditioners will even use as much as 2.5kW . Hence, you want to be on the safe side of power consumption, especially if you will be combining its usage with other electrical appliances. In any case, the others should be appliances that consume less power.
Although there are some low power models that only use around 600W, only a few are being manufactured. If you are able to acquire one of the low power models, they only require three or four solar panels in your array to run. This should easily fit onto an average house roof.
You should now have an idea of what type of solar power configuration you need for your air conditioner. You should also bear in mind the cost implication is directly proportional to the quality of each model the solar panels have to offer.
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How Do Solar Panels Work
Solar panels utilize a scientific process known as the . In simple terms, every solar panel consists of photovoltaic cells and is built to create an electric field. When sunlight hits these cells, which are typically made of silicon layers injected with phosphorus and boron, photons are absorbed.
The above process leads electrons to be drawn into the electric field, thus producing direct current . DC power needs to be converted to alternating current , which is used to run most household appliances an inverter performs this task.
To sum it up, the panels generate DC power, and inverters convert it to AC power. In an on-grid system, the electricity produced through the solar panels is sent to the main utility grid and then to your home. Users can get paid for excess electricity generated through net-metering programs.
In an off-grid system, the electricity from the solar power system is sent through an inverter, and AC power is then stored in a battery. These batteries then power your home and appliances. For an off-grid system to run air conditioners consistently and efficiently, large batteries are needed.
Sizing Rv Battery Bank
Now we get to the actual storage of electricity. This involves a little less complex calculation, but its still an important part of sizing up your solar installation.
With this A/C unit that draws 150 amps, were going to need an extra 150 Ah of capacity for every hour that you plan to run your A/C at night or simply when the sun isnt shining directly on your panels.
I know that Ive liked to run my A/C for an hour before I go to bed so that Im more comfortable trying to fall asleep.
But that requires an extra 150 Ah of battery capacity that I might not have with my current setup.
The capacity of your battery bank will determine how long you can continue to operate your RV conditioner on cloudy days or in the evenings.
Using my above example, if my current capacity is 500 Ah, Id have to boost that up to closer to 650 Ah if I wished to run my A/C for that hour before climbing into bed.
Calculating your minimum Ah capacity requires an understanding of several factors. First, youll have to determine your average electrical usage per day .
Next, youll need to decide how many days of backup battery capacity you want to have on hand in case of emergency, or simply if youre into off-grid RV travel.
Then, youll need to analyze the average depth of discharge for your current battery bank. And finally, youll need to determine the average temperature your batteries will be exposed to wherever youre living or traveling.
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How Many Solar Panels To Run 5 Ton Ac Unit
Air conditioner is needed when its hottest, which is the four hours around noon-time in most locations.
This is a lucky break, because this is the same window of time when the suns energy is high and solar panel power output is at a maximum.
1 Ton of air conditioning cooling capacity is about 1.2kW, so if you run it for 4 hours it would consume 4.8kWh over that time.
Logically, a 5 Ton air conditioning unit will consume:
4.8kWh x 5 = 24kWh
A 300 watt solar panel can produce 300 watts x 4 hours for the same time period which equal 1.2kWh.
The basic formula for finding the number of solar panels to run a 5 ton ac unit is:
AC energy consumption /energy produced = 20 solar panels
How Much Power Can A 300 Watt Solar Panel Generate
A solar panels output power in watts depends on these factors:
- solar panel efficiency
- solar panel area in square meters
- will you be using fixed or auto-tracking for the solar installation
Solar panel ratings given by the manufacturer follow the guidlines laid out in the Standard Test Conditions or STC.
Basically, the panal rating is stipulated when the solar irradiance is 1000 watts/m2 and the temperature is 25 degrees C.
This assumes that the panel is directly under the sun at 90 degrees, but this is hardly ever the case!
Solar panel output reduces when the angle to the sun becomes more acute. Unfortunately, it also reduces at other angles, if the temperature is above 25 degrees C.
The power output goes down at a rate of 0.5 watts for every degree increase in temperature.
If the suns energy is low because of the irradiance level in your geographical location, then solar panel output will go down proportionately.
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How Does A Solar Ac Work
A solar air conditioner combines solar electricity and air conditioning. In simple words, it takes energy from the Sun and uses it to power your AC to cool your space!
A solar panel is a device that captures the power of the Sun. It converts the Sun rays into electrical energy. This energy can then be used directly or stored in a battery. This is known as DC power. A solar-powered air conditioner then uses this DC power, either directly as DC or after conversion into AC , and heats or cools your home.
Furthermore, instead of using grid energy, a solar-powered air conditioner uses the energy of the Sun. It can use the grid energy, though, if needed. That can be done by making a few modifications to the air conditioner.
You Need The Right Size Solar Array
You can power your air conditioner with solar panels. But they must be capable of producing a lot of energy. For instance, some air conditioners need 2.5kw. So, your solar panel system would need to have at least 3kw to continuously power the air conditioning.
If you intend to power your air conditioning for five hours per day, your air conditioning will require 750 Ah a day from the batteries.
Note: This estimate does not include any other appliances requiring power. These numbers only take into account the energy needed for air conditioning.
To meet this need, the solar panels need to generate 107 amps 7 hours every day. This is if it is a clear, sunny day. More is needed with overcast weather.
If you want to power a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, 1,500 watts of solar panels is the minimum amount required.
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