Green Living In Hot Locales: A Solar Powered Air Conditioner Tutorial

To show how to buy a solar powered air conditioner, I’m going to show what components you’ll need, and what environmental conditions are necessary.  But let’s first begin with a comparison.  When I lived in Boston and was anticipating a hot summer in my apartment, I went out and bought a window unit air conditioner.  It was around $150 and the output was about 10,000 BTUs.  That’s a small one but it did a good job in my studio apartment, which was around 450 square feet.  Most people are looking to cool more than that, so let’s take a 1200 square foot area and see if it’s possible to cool it with a solar powered air conditioner.

According to a major appliance store’s website, one would need around 18,000 BTUs to cool a 1200 square foot space.  Well there’s something called the SplitCool solar powered air conditioner that has a capacity of 18000 BTUs, so let’s go with that.  Solar powered air conditioner websites don’t like to give prices so let’s just assume it’s wickedly expensive.  Anyhow, if you’re going the solar route you almost always are going to pay more than if you just bought a unit from Best Buy and plugged it in.

The solar powered air conditioner system requires a set of deep cycle batteries, a solar charge controller and of course an array of solar panels.  Deep cycle solar batteries are an absolute must, because only deep cycle variety can handle the ups and downs of solar charges that come with a solar powered air conditioner setup.

solar power

The solar charge controller is used to deliver the correct amount of voltage to the batteries as the amount fluctuates due to environmental conditions.  It will make sure the batteries are getting the right voltage by monitoring your solar panels and the battery condition at all times.  Without the solar charge controller, you will have to replace your solar batteries much much sooner because they will die faster.

Finally, you will need an array of solar panels.  The photovoltaic (PV) panels are where the real expense comes in.  Your solar powered air conditioner is really just a way of  maximizing the energy derived from the panels.  Some people will use a regular, grid AC unit with their PV panels but the solar powered air conditioner will be way more efficient.  The highest watt solar panel is about 280 watts.  You’ll need at least four of these to power your 18,000 BTU solar powered air conditioner, since it takes a minimum of 800 watts.  Now if you live in an area that’s less than totally sunny all day long, add a few more solar panels.  Now you’re ready to harness the sun’s energy to cool your home with a solar powered air conditioner.

LG’s hybrid solar powered air conditioner

LG’s hybrid solar powered air conditioner was a great idea but for homeowners that’s all it is, just an idea.  The unit only produces 70 watts of power and must be placed on the south side of your home in order to maximize efficiency.  Doesn’t that mean the unit itself will heat up faster and need to be cooled, thus requiring more energy?

A solar powered air conditioner that only produces 70 watts isn’t going to pay for itself anytime soon, either.  A little internet research will show that even the smallest window AC unit uses ten times more than that!  It’s written somewhere that LG’s hybrid  solar powered air conditioner generates enough power from solar panels on top to power the fan that cools the unit.  Well it’s definitely a nice idea and nobody likes to criticize good intentions but sheesh… who would buy this?

Perhaps that’s the real question, and the answer might surprise you: maybe nobody is supposed to buy LG’s solar powered air conditioner.  It’s a science experiment, made for other scientists and solar power professionals.  Also, they hybrid in hybrid solar powered air conditioner might increase its load with every prototype.  Maybe someday all that will be needed from the grid will be 70 watts to generate the cooling fan.

Sean Harris is a business and technology writer who lives in Florida. His current writings can be seen at irs ibis

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