Relocating off-grid doesn't mean sacrificing modern amenities. In 2012, the amount of electricity that came from solar panels in U.S. homes increased by 76%, so going solar is definitely on the uptick. But if you've looked into the possibility of installing off-grid or solar air conditioning, you probably have a few questions. Here are the most pressing questions answered regarding these systems so you'll know whether they're right for you.
How do they work?
Off-grid air conditioning units aren't complicated pieces of machinery; they're powered in one of several ways.
The first is by using power generated from solar panels, with battery backup as needed. These are referred to as hybrid systems because they use a combination of power from the sun and battery power, falling back on battery power during the evening or when the sun isn't directly hitting the panels.
The other type, known as evaporative coolers, heat and cool your home through a process of evaporation and condensation of water that passes through the system. While the fans that run the unit can be solar powered, these systems can also use batteries when needed. Evaporative air conditioners should only be used in dry climates, and they need to be hooked up to a water source.
Are they affordable?
A rather subjective topic, affordability is still something that should be addressed. You will find that prices vary by brand and type, overall.
Evaporative coolers tend to be less expensive and easier to install, an important factor if you're doing it yourself. On the other hand, if you're looking at strictly off-grid, brand-name air conditioning systems, you can expect to spend $2,000-$3,000 for the unit, then about the equivalent for installation of the system and solar panels. Hybrids tend to run somewhere in the middle, and you can find some for as low as $1,400. But keep in mind, they will require a slightly bigger investment if you decide to go strictly solar with these systems.
Will they save you money?
It's been estimated that half of the energy used in a home is used to heat and cool the residence. Just air conditioning usage alone adds up to a whopping $15 billion for homeowners around the country.
And consider this: there are certain hybrid solar air conditioners that use only 500 watts of energy per hour. This is a pretty significant difference when compared to the average window unit that uses 900 watts or the central AC system that uses 3,500 watts. And it's even more significant when you factor in that the energy being used by the hybrid is coming from a renewable resource.
So, while an exact savings amount will vary from home to home, it's still not hard to see that you will spend less over the long haul by using an off-grid air conditioning system.
How do they benefit the environment?
Air conditioning systems that use alternative power sources are huge energy conservers and can greatly reduce your carbon footprint. As a matter of fact, some companies boast a reduction of up to 212 kg of carbon-dioxide emissions over the course of ten years, which would essentially amount to planting 780 pine trees. This is a massive win, as regular air conditioning units give off 140-million tons of CO2 each and every year.
Can they run on cloudy days?
Most homes that are off-grid still rely on a way to generate power, and this is generally accomplished by utilizing battery banks. The beauty is that these batteries recharge with the help of the sun or wind turbines. Because battery sources can become an integral part of your system, off-grid air conditioning can be fully functional on cloudy days as well as during the evening hours.
How long do they last?
You can find systems that come with varying warranties, and most units can be expected to far outlive those warranties. Nonetheless, how long yours can be expected to live will again depend on what kind you get and how well it's cared for. But expect most high-end models to last, on average, about 15-20 years.
For more information on your residential air conditioning options, contact a company like United Heating Cooling and Plumbing Inc.