Solar Air Conditioning And Heating

Almost everyone is feeling the pinch of the rising electricity costs across the country, and this means that many people are looking into alternative energy sources. You are probably aware that you can reduce your power bill by installing a solar hot water service and even a larger solar panel system on to the roof of a house. However, one of the biggest electricity usages in Australian households is for heating and cooling. Newly developed solar heating and cooling options are now available and can lead to a reduction in electricity costs. Solar air conditioning and heating are a new and exciting initiative which will not only save you money, but reduce your environmental footprint as well.

Solar Air Conditioning

A series of solar panels installed on a household roof.There are a number of different options that you can explore if you are thinking about installing solar air conditioning. As with ordinary air conditioning systems, solar air conditioning options come in the form of split systems (with the latest inverter technology) and ducted systems. The choice of these options will depend on your heating and cooling needs, energy usage, budget, house/room size and a number of other factors.

Split system/ inverter tech

An inverter air conditioner modified to run on solar power.A split system can be modified or designed to run from solar panel/s. The modern day split system air conditioning options use inverter technology to allow the air conditioner to turn off the compressor, but continue to keep the room cool. They are designed to be able to quickly adjust the room temperature so that the compressor is not working for long periods of time. This is achieved by heating the gas through a solar outside unit to highly pressurise the gas. This is an advantage when trying to save power as normal air conditioners lose a lot of energy during heating and cooling. Solar air conditioning units can save up to 50% in power. Solar split systems also generally run quieter than conventional systems. Modern low watt inverter units are also available and are perfect for running from solar power. However, these units do come with a premium price tag.

Some other great advantages of solar air conditioning are that you can purchase the air conditioning unit before the solar panels and have these installed at a later date. You are also able to use a mix of solar and mains power to power your units.

Ducted Systems

A vent installed with a ducted air conditioner.Solar air conditioning can also be achieved through a ducted system. Many new houses can have piping installed in the flooring through which cool water can be pumped via solar water systems. Solar powered fans can also be installed in the roof to pump cooler air into the house and pump warm air out of the roof cavity. The reverse can also be achieved with the solar heated air in the roof cavity used to heat the house on cooler days.

Cost of Installing Solar Air Conditioning

TypeCost
Inverter systemsThese range in price. A standard unit costs about $500 -$1,000. Specialised solar systems can be upwards of $2,000. Remember that installation of the system will also add to the cost of the unit.
Ducted systemsThese range in price from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of the unit and how many vents you require.

Solar Heating- (Solar Hydronics or Solar Thermal systems)

As well as providing air conditioning options you can also use solar power in a heating capacity. There are two common solar heating systems that are installed in Australia. The first system enables you to have the benefit of both solar radiant heating and solar hot water.

Solar Hydronics

Pipes used in the installation of a solar heating system.Large evacuated tube collectors are placed on the roof of the house (or they can be installed on the ground if need be). The water is passed through these tubes where it is heated and then stored in a specialised hot water system. This water can then be circulated throughout the house expelling heat through radiators. The benefit of this system is that two systems of heating are not operating in your house drawing twice the power. The solar hydronic system also provides allergy free heating that is silent and reliable. The radiator units are also safe to have around children as the ambient temperature of the water is 65 degrees or lower.

Another option is to have piping installed under the flooring in new house for ducted heading. These systems often come with a digital control system allowing the owner to monitor and control the temperature and water storage rates. This system is also a good option as it provides allergy free and invisible heating. This system requires little maintenance as there are no moving parts or filters than need replacing. These systems usually come with a 20-30 year warranty and you can expect them to last even longer than this.

Solar Heating- Evaporative heating

A heating vent.The second option for solar heating is to use the solar panels on your roof. Air from the house is pumped through the solar collectors where it is heated and then pumped back through the ducted heating system of the house. The pumps in these cases can be powered by solar power or by mains power depending on your preferences and the amount of power that is generated. If your panels are not generating enough power, mains power may be accessed to power the fans. This system is also said to be allergy free and is very flexible and can be installed in numerous ways to suit the size and style of the house.

An Exciting New technology

The latest and newest solar heating and cooling option has been developed by CSIRO. It combines solar hot water, heating and cooling. The water is heated via a panel of solar collectors on the roof. A portion of this hot water is then used in the specialised heating/cooling air conditioning unit. It can be used to heat the air during winter and cool the air during warmer months. For more information see the following video clip produced by the CSIRO.

This technology is said to reduce greenhouse emissions and also cut the cost of power bills and lower your overall power consumption. It is not yet available to the general public, but a select number of households are currently using the system on a trial basis. If this goes well then this technology will hopefully become available for use in new and existing homes!

Cost of Installing Solar Heating

TypeCost
Solar Hydronic/Thermal SystemThe general cost of installing a Solar Hydronic/Thermal system ranges from $7,500- $10,000.
Solar Evaporative Heating SystemCan cost anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 depending on the size and scope of the installation process.

Subsidising the Cost of Installation

There is no doubt that these products are more expensive than conventional air conditioning and heating options. However, many people find that the overall savings are worth the initial investment. There are ways that you can apply for subsidies for the cost of installation of these systems, particularly as the Australian government is committed to reducing energy use and environmental damage. Solar air conditioning and heating options can be expensive to install but there are some excellent ways to subsidse the costs. There is solar air conditioning, heating and hot water rebates available through government initiatives. You also have the option to buy a system outright or work out a payment system with the provider. It is also possible to buy a cheaper air conditioning unit and run it off solar panels that you have installed on the roof.

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Solar Split System Air Conditioners

A split system air conditioner is a type of air conditioning unit that is separated into two parts. The inside part of the unit, also known as the air outlet unit, is mounted on an interior wall and this is where the cool air passed into the room. The outside unit is the condenser and contains a compressor. These units can be separated by some distance. They are commonly seen mounted back-to-back, but they can actually be placed many meters apart from each other. This means that the outside unit can be placed in a less conspicuous position and in an area where the noise from the unit isn’t going to be an issue. Another major benefit of this type of air conditioner is that up to eight inside units can be run from a single outside unit! Many models also contain a heat exchanger and can also be used for supplying heating in the cooler months. What many people don’t realise is that many split systems can be run directly from a solar panel installation and some are even designed with low energy usage for this situation.

Hybrid Split Systems – Thermal Unit

Thermal Units for Hybrid Solar Split Systems

Thermal Units

A hybrid solar split system is a fairly new development in the world of solar powered air conditioners. These units feature a thermal collector (pictured here), which looks just like a solar panel. The thermal collector uses the heat of the sun to super heat and pressurise the gases. This takes over from the compressor unit and reduces the amount of time the compressor in running (and power it is drawing). This means that less power is used as less energy is required to run the compressor. These systems are not fully solar powered, but can cut more than 50% of the power usage compared to a standard split system!

Dual Power Systems

These are very similar to hybrid systems but, instead of being a product designed for solar input, they use a standard split system. This system is then professionally installed to run on both solar and mains power. This means that the upfront costs are reduced, a standard split system can be purchased for as little as $200, while retaining the ability to run the unit on both forms of power. The downside of this type of solar air conditioning installation is that it requires a professional installer, along with an already existing solar installation, which is more complex and far more expensive.

Inverter and Low Power

An inverter split system

They might not look different from a standard split system, but the technology inside is certainly more advanced!

These split systems are designed for those who require a quality air conditioner without the normal power usage. Inverter air conditioners have become standard for most newer split systems on the market. These use a variable speed compressor to match the air temperatures more closely and regulate the power required. This means lower temperature changes and a more comfortable home. They use about 30% less energy and are also more efficient at heating and cooling. These make excellent air conditioners for running from a solar panel installation. In addition to this, some manufacturers are now producing ultra low power split systems (again based on inverter technology). These can be run directly from a solar panel and can even be used in caravans and motorhomes. Both of these options cost a little bit extra in the initial outlay, but they are one of the best options for solar powered split systems.

Fully Solar Powered

A series of solar panels installed on a household roof.These are the latest in models in the range and feature a complete solar powered split system. These come with the unit as well as a dedicated solar panel to run the air conditioner unit. These are the most expensive in initial cost, but are also the cheapest to run in the long term. The only other downside, other than the initial cost, is that they will only run while the solar panels are receiving enough light. This means that they wont work for heating your house in winter after dark!

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