Is solar air conditioning right for you?


Everyone wants to keep cool during the summer, which is why most homeowners have air conditioning systems in their homes. But running those AC units can be costly - an estimated 12% of the average home’s energy consumption in the United States goes right to air conditioning. 

When we run our air conditioners, we’re not only spending a lot of money, we’re using a lot of energy. In fact, air conditioning causes 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere each year. So, as we’re trying to keep ourselves cool, we’re contributing to the very thing that makes each summer hotter- climate change. 

Luckily, there is a way to stay cool that allows you to cut down on both your energy costs and your carbon footprint, and that is solar air conditioning. In this blog, we’ll take a look at what solar powered air conditioning options are available, and what kind is right for you. 

On this page:

what is solar air conditoning

What is solar air conditioning? 

There are two different solar powered air conditioning options, both of which work differently. 

They are:

  • Solar PV air conditioners
  • Solar thermal air conditioners

Solar photovoltaic (PV) air conditioners 

Solar PV air conditioners work the same as traditional split air conditioning systems. Instead of powering the system with energy from the grid, the unit is powered with solar energy produced by solar panels. The number of solar panels you need varies depending on the size of the system. Usually, they will come with between two and six solar panels. 

These systems can be paired with solar batteries as well, so extra energy produced by the solar panels can be used later, when the sun goes down. When paired with a battery, these systems are referred to as ‘solar hybrid air conditioners’. 

Solar thermal air conditioners 

Solar thermal air conditioners use solar collectors to heat a liquid, like water, that then passes through the system and evaporates. The evaporation and condensation of the water in the system produces the cool air for your home. 

How much does solar air conditioning cost? 

Solar powered air conditioners are substantially more expensive than a conventional air conditioning unit, coming in at about $2,000 before installation costs. 

Installation costs can bring the cost up to around $5,000. Some popular popular solar air conditioners on the market include:

  • SolarAir World’s 100% Off-Grid Solar Air Conditioner sells for around $1,700 before installation and is great for off-grid applications, as it doesn’t require any grid power. However, it does rely on batteries. Both the outdoor unit and indoor unit run on DC power.
  • GREE’s solar air conditioning hybrid system costs about $1,800 before installation. It is a DC-inverter air conditioner, so it doesn’t need a separate inverter for AC power. It can run using two solar panels.
  • HotSpot Energy’s hybrid mini-split heat pump cooling system can provide off-grid solar AC throughout the day. It’s ductless, so you can have air conditioning directly in the space you want cooled. It can also be connected to grid power or battery power for continuous use, even when the solar panels aren’t producing electricity. It costs about $1,800 before installation. 

The good news is, your solar air conditioning installation could qualify for the 26% federal tax credit, which substantially brings down the cost. You may also qualify for some state and local energy efficiency incentives that are available in your area. Consulting with a local installer will give you a better understanding of what rebates are available to you. 

Is solar air conditioning worth it? 

The answer to this is both yes and no. 

Installing solar air conditioning with your current HVAC system will save you money on your energy bills, however, you’ll almost always get more bang for your buck if you install a residential solar panel system that is designed to also cover your cooling costs.

Let’s break this down:

Let’s say the Smith family spends about $1,400 per year on electricity, which is about the US average for energy bills. Of that, $170 is attributed to air conditioning. 

If the Smiths decided to install a solar air conditioner that costs $3,700 after the federal tax credit, it would take about 21 years to pay back the system. In other words, it would take 21 years for the Smiths to save as much as they spent on their solar air conditioner, assuming that it covers all of their cooling costs. 

Now, if the Smiths instead decided to install a solar panel system that costs somewhere around $14,000, which is the average cost for a solar system in the US after the tax credit, their solar payback period would only be 10 years. That means it would only take 10 years for the Smith’s solar panel system to save them as much as they spent on the system. And this system covers their cooling costs too! 

The payback period for a solar panel system is much shorter than the payback period for solar air conditioner. And once you reach your solar payback period, you’ll get free energy to power your home for the remaining lifespan of the system! Find out the solar payback for your specific home with our solar calculator. 

Are there any cases where a solar air conditioner is a good choice? 

There are some scenarios where installing a solar air conditioner might work for you. One of these cases is if there is limited roof space. 

If you don’t have space to install a full residential solar panel system, a solar air conditioner is a great way to still take advantage of renewable energy, decrease your power consumption, and see energy savings on your utility bill. 

When people have off-grid homes, they may want to consider having a separate solar air conditioning system. This way, off-grid homes can still enjoy the comfort of air conditioning, even without grid power. 

You should contact a local HVAC company to install a solar cooling system to ensure it is properly installed and that the refrigerant is properly handled. However, in most cases, a residential solar PV installation is going to be a better long-term investment. 

See how much solar can save you

Key takeaways

  • Solar PV air conditioners work like regular split air conditioning systems - but they are powered by energy produced by solar panels.
  • Solar thermal air conditioners use solar collectors that heat a liquid that then passes through the system and evaporates and condenses, which creates cool air.
  • Unless you have limited roofing space, it’s almost always a better investment to install a full solar panel system that can power your entire home - not just your air conditioner.
 - Author of Solar Reviews

Catherine Lane

SolarReviews Blog Author

Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

Related solar news