Solar Air Conditioning – Is It Efficient

In today’s average Singaporean home, a big share of the power bill goes to air conditioning, as high as 40%  in private housing residents. This usage is expected to keep rising as the population grows and AC units become more affordable.  This high usage of AC brings up two main problems; high power inefficiencies and raised carbon emissions. However, more Singaporeans are awake to the dangers of climate change and are looking for more sustainable alternatives. A solar air conditioner can provide a viable alternative to conventional air conditioners and help push towards carbon zero emissions for Singaporean homes.

How Does a Solar Air Conditioner Work?

A solar air conditioner uses solar power to run its components.  There are two main kinds of solar air conditioners:

Off-grid Solar Air Conditioner 

This type of solar AC harvests solar power using photovoltaic panels.  The power goes directly to run the AC compressor unit to cool the home. The excess power goes to solar batteries, which store the energy needed to run the AC when there is no sunshine.

Hybrid Solar Air Conditioners 

Today, the best solar air conditioning uses hybrid power; they use solar power and fall back on the main grid when solar power is unavailable. These ACs work well in the humid and hot climates often seen in Southeast Asia. 

How Efficient Are Solar Air Conditioners?

A solar air conditioner works just as well as a conventional AC  when there is adequate solar power. Intermittency is countered by using high-capacity solar batteries that provide power when there is inadequate sunshine and at night.

Hybrid solar air conditioners offer higher energy efficiency because they combine the best of both systems. Also, they bring down costs by running on solar power when there is peak demand on the main grid and switching to the mains at night. 

Data from the Singapore National Environment Agency shows the average Singaporean home uses up to 40%  of its power bills on air conditioning. Installing a hybrid solar air conditioner can cut these power bills by as much as 70%. 

Solar AC SEER Ratings 

The efficiency of a solar air conditioner can be seen in its SEER ratings. SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. It measures an AC cooling output against its power consumption in a given season. The higher the number, the higher the efficiency. 

Most AC units have SEER ratings between 13 and 21.  An AC must have an SEER rating of 14 and above to get the  ENERGY STAR rating that shows it is energy efficient. Today, solar air conditioners have the highest SEER ratings, up to 35. 

Solar AC and Savings 

Battery capacity and costs present a hurdle for pure solar units; All night cooling requires a high capacity battery, which translates to high initial costs. However, hybrid air conditioners don’t require batteries because they are wired into a house’s circuit, making their setup easier and cheaper. 

The biggest savings come when a hybrid unit is coupled with an array of solar panels that are just enough to power the unit.  It optimizes costs while offering  ROI  right from setup. Good insulation further reduces the need for a  large array of solar panels, saving even more money.

However, solar air conditioning is very affordable when it is set up. The unit is easy to maintain and only needs the occasional wiping of solar panels.  The AC is also entirely the responsibility of the homeowner.  When there are manmade or natural power disruptions,  the house remains comfortable. The reduced operating costs justify the initial investment and even add value to a home. 

Solar AC Role in Reducing Greenhouse Emissions

With such a high share of domestic energy use, air conditioning contributes to carbon emissions. The electricity needed to run conventional AC units largely comes from fossil fuel energy. 

Switching to high-efficiency solar air conditioners will be a big contribution to the push to achieve zero carbon emissions.  Solar AC units will have to be part of the fight against climate change because of the widespread application of air conditioning. 

Just like there is a big push to adopt electric vehicles, there must be a push to encourage people to adopt this greener technology. Once a solar panel is set up, it cuts the power needed from the grid and reduces carbon emissions. 

The importance of air conditioning in a modern home cannot be underestimated.  It makes homes inviting and comfortable even in the hottest of summers. However, air conditioning also plays a significant role in environmental degradation and the problem of climate change. Individual homeowners can play their part by switching to high-efficiency solar air conditioners. The overall combined adoption of solar systems will go a long way to fighting climate change.  It has the benefits of promoting a sustainable environment while cutting energy costs. 

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