Solar Air Conditioning: What It Is and How It Works


Most people like to keep their homes cool during summer. And one of the best ways to counter the raging summer heat is with air conditioning, but using one can feed your electrical bill. Thankfully, you can prevent extravagant invoices by installing solar air conditioning.

Air conditioners are not just costly to run but also environmentally dangerous. In truth, grid-powered air conditioning may pollute the atmosphere with approximately 17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

But can solar air conditioning reduce cost and cut carbon emissions? Keep reading to find out.

What is Solar Air Conditioning?

Solar air conditioning combines solar energy and air conditioning.  In other words, solar air conditioning takes power from the sun–and uses it to cool or heat your home without relying on the grid.

Interestingly, solar air conditioners have zero emissions since they depend on unlimited energy from the sun. Plus, they may be pricey upfront, but owning and running solar air conditioners is more affordable in the long run. Therefore,  you can reduce your electricity bills and carbon footprint.

Further, you can enjoy air conditioning through photovoltaic conversion, passive solar designs, and solar thermal energy conversion.

How does a Solar Air Conditioner Work?

Solar panel on an air conditioner

Solar panel and AC on a roof

You might think solar air conditioners’ working process is simple: Absorb solar power and convert it into usable electricity. While you’re not wrong, such thoughts only create a skeletal frame of how these cooling and heating systems work.

In truth, solar air conditioners can work in two different configurations: conventional solar-powered and ‘open loop’ cooling systems. So let’s take a closer look.

Open Loop Solar Air Conditioning

The open-loop cooling system is a complex process that uses unconventional means to achieve solar air conditioning. Usually, the configuration involves using water tanks to generate cool or hot air.

The open loop system uses the water tank to heat air when you require cooling. Then, the hot air dries the cylinder extracting excess moisture from air entering the parallel chamber.

In addition, the system pumps dry air through a cooler and circulates it around your space. Also, open-cooling systems send the heated air outside through exhaust pipes. However, the hot air will directly warm the house if you need a hot environment.

Conventional Solar Powered Air Conditioning

This configuration uses a classic vapor compression refrigeration cycle to generate cool or hot air. The system absorbs all the heat in the building and sends it to the refrigerant gas. Further, it transfers or dumps the excess heat in a condenser to rapidly cool the refrigerant.

In addition, the cool refrigerant then transfers back to the building to repeat the cooling cycle. Typically, conventional solar-powered cooling systems receive power from solar cells instead of grid electricity.

Types of Solar Air Conditioning

Solar panel on an air conditioner

Generally, there are two types of solar air conditioners based on their energy source. These types include solar PV and solar thermal air conditioners.

Solar PV Air Conditioning

Solar air conditioning types can range from basic to advanced. Undoubtedly, small solar panels generating enough energy to power a fan is the simplest form of solar PV air conditioning. Plus, you can use such designs to keep an attic cool.

However, more advanced systems utilize standard solar panels generating enough power to run air conditioners during the day. Further, these units may require direct or alternating current to supply cool or hot air.

Since solar panels generate DC electricity, air conditioners running on the alternating current will need inverters to convert DC to AC. Moreover, off-grid solar air conditioners may run on DC power due to higher efficiency.

DC-reliant air conditioner eliminates the conversion process and receives power directly from the panels. Furthermore, you can store extra energy in batteries, allowing you to use your air conditioners at night. Although batteries only store DC energy, you can use an inverter to make them usable with AC systems.

Interestingly, hybrid solar air conditioners offer the best of both worlds. No doubt, you can run them with solar power during the day and connect them to a grid-reliant outlet at night. However, these systems require a DC to AC inverter.

Solar Thermal Air Conditioners

These are not your conventional solar air conditioners. So, solar thermal systems don’t use PV panels. Instead, they harness the sun’s thermal energy.

These devices are like solar water heaters because they use the sun’s energy to create heated water. This hot water follows the open loop process by converting liquid refrigerants to gas and condensing absorbed heat.

The process generates cool air for air conditioning. Also, solar thermal air conditioners provide hot water for household use. So, most people consider solar thermal systems as a more efficient option.

Undoubtedly, heating and cooling water are more straightforward than producing electricity to run air conditioners. However, you can’t depend on batteries or electricity from the grid to power your equipment at night.

Benefits of Solar Air Conditioning

Whatever type of solar air conditioning you prefer, cooling your home with solar energy has environmental and financial benefits.

  • It saves you some money on your utility bills.
  • Solar air conditioning reduces carbon emissions, making it environmentally friendly.
  • Your cooling system won’t be reliant on the grid.
  • You get to enjoy green energy tax incentives for going solar.

Factors to Consider when Shifting to Solar-Powered Air Conditioners

Men setting up solar systems

Men setting up solar systems

Climate Conditions

If you live in sunny areas, you’ll only need a few panels to power your air conditioner. However, regions with less sunlight will require bigger backup batteries and more panels.


As mentioned above, batteries are crucial if you live in mild climates. They’ll help you store harnessed solar energy for the nights and cloudy days.

Home Size

Larger homes require extra AC capacity to cool the entire space. Hence, you’ll install more PV panels to run everything. In contrast, smaller homes may only need a few to power an air conditioning system.

Additionally, most homes use an average of 10 to 20 panels to power all electric devices.

Solar Air Conditioning Costs

Several factors can determine the installation costs of solar air conditioning. Usually, the price depends on how many units and solar panels you want to install.

Solar air conditioners can cost up to $2000, excluding additional costs. But it can shoot up to $5000 with installation costs. Thankfully, you can benefit from tax credits (depending on your region) and cut down upfront costs.

Apart from the high upfront price, solar air conditioning costs almost nothing to run. So, you may use the system for years without paying up to $100.

Last Words

Solar air conditioning can enhance your living experience. It’s becoming simpler to power through solar as more innovative and efficient air conditioners roam the market.

These systems are worthy investments that can cool your home while reducing your environmental impact and utility bills. However, before taking the next step into solar-powered ACs, we recommend contacting a professional to evaluate your energy consumption, climate, location, and property compatibility.

Do you have any questions? Be sure to contact us, and we’ll be happy to help.

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