Is solar air conditioning any good?
It's a starting point in someone's quest for solar-powered air conditioning first to ask a basic question: 'Is solar-powered air conditioning any good?' We obviously think so, and here's why:
1. The current technology of modern solar-powered air conditioners make it possible. Units take advantage of the variable-speed inverter compressors and fan motors to ramp up slowly, thus avoiding the surge, or inrush, current which was a problem in running traditional air conditioners using solar. Also, many units are now hybrid, so grid power is used to fill in times when the sun's not strong (such as when it's cloudy or nighttime). And, since the motors are variable speed, they also have higher SEER (now SEER2) values than most non-solar air conditioners. Bonus: variable-speed motors see less wear with their gradual starting and stopping. So, they last longer and need less maintenance.
2. The cost structure is now attractive. Solar panel costs/watt have plummeted in recent years, and even recent months. It's possible to now find solar for under $.50/watt, meaning it's possible to run a 1-ton air conditioner whenever it's sun for around $750 in solar panels for the next 25 years.
3. Are you heading out for an hour, a day, or a year? Tempted to turn down the air conditioner? Don't bother if it's solar. Solar runs for free, so pets and plants stay happy, and you always come back to a nice cool environment.
4. Now, the Inflation Reduction Act allows both the solar panels and the air conditioners (if they're Energy Star certified) to get a whopping 30% investment tax credit. So, in effect, the cost of these systems are now 30% lower.
5. Lest we forget about the environmental benefits, there are environmental benefits. You're not burning fossil fuels when you're running with the sun.
So, what are the potential downsides?
1. If you don't have much sun in your area, the solar aspect might not do much good. Consider moving?
2. Most units, as of now, are 1 to 2 tons. So, they're not going to supplant your whole-house air conditioner. And yet, this may be an advantage, as these units can help pick up the low-hanging fruit of your cooling (and heating, since these systems are also heat pumps) loads. Set your main unit for a temperature a few degrees warmer, and save that way, too. Or, put your solar air conditioner in the garage or upstairs bedroom to solve hotspot problems.
In short, solar air conditioners now work, and the changing cost structure, increased efficiency, and favorable government policy make them attractive for most.