Off-Grid Air Conditioning
September 6, 2016
“Going off the grid” is a growing household trend in the United States and across the world. An estimated 180,000 U.S. families were living off-grid as of 2013. More make the transition to off-grid living each year, as access to information increases and environmental consciousness grows among homeowners.
Americans go off-grid for a variety of reasons:
- Energy independence and security
- Cost savings related to grid energy consumption
- Reducing the home’s carbon footprint to benefit the environment
Residential cooling systems can be costly to operate, consume great amounts of energy, and emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – impacting each of these motivations. For off-grid living, many see air conditioners as an obvious system to cut, yet are not willing to sacrifice the comfort a modern air conditioner provides.
Can you take your home off-grid and enjoy the comfort of air conditioning?
“Grid” refers to the power grid, which links the average home to utility services such as electricity, water, and natural gas. “Going off-grid” means to unlink the home from such public utilities – instead of consuming electricity from the local power company, the homeowner would generate their own electricity, for example.
The stand-alone power systems which allow a home to go off-grid are made up of many components. In general, the homes are equipped with systems which convert the energy harvested by solar panels, wind turbines, and other equipment into usable electricity. Safety and metering devices are included in a home’s stand-alone power system; batteries store power in excess of the home’s daily needs.
Off-grid homes generate power on their property, utilizing natural and renewable resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind. This power is cleaner and its use doesn’t have a monthly fee, meeting the objectives many have for going off-grid. While off-grid homes may have backup generators which operate off a fuel reserve, such systems are used in emergency situations.
Air Conditioning Energy Consumption & Environmental Impact
- Modern air conditioning systems are energy hogs. Air conditioning systems consume 6 to 25 percent of a household’s annual energy, depending on region. This costs homeowners over $11 billion every year.
- As of 2015, 67 percent of U.S.-produced electricity is generated from fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and petroleum. Air conditioners on the grid consume about 5 percent of U.S.-produced electricity, expelling around 100 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Because air conditioners consume so much power and the majority of U.S. electricity comes from fossil fuel resources, they are easily excluded from off-grid homes.
Off-Grid Air Conditioning Solutions
Many who choose to take their homes off-grid forego conventional air conditioning systems in favor of incorporating specific building techniques which keep the structure cool. Even so, going off-grid does not mean you must sacrifice having an air conditioner.
Off-grid air conditioning solutions will keep your home cool and comfortable while still allowing you to remain true to your energy and environmental goals.
- There are multiple original equipment manufacturers which produce air conditioning systems that can be powered by solar panels. Some units can operate directly off the DC power collected by solar panels, and others may run off AC power converted by the home’s inverter.
- Well-known air conditioner brands also offer cooling equipment which can be powered by alternative energy sources. LG’s solar hybrid air conditioners are equipped with a photovoltaic solar panel to produce much of the system’s required energy. Lennox offers a line of air conditioners and heat pumps designed to run off solar power.
- A geothermal heat pump which has a high coefficient of performance (COP) will remove more heat from the home’s interior per unit of electricity consumed.
- Evaporative coolers, a.k.a. swamp coolers, uses evaporation to pull heat from the indoor air that passes through the unit. They use far less energy than a conventional air conditioner, and are ideal for dry climates.
Will your home’s solar array provide the necessary power for off-grid air conditioning under ideal conditions? Off the battery backup? Off-grid homes vary greatly in terms of the alternative energy systems they utilize. Depending on the capacity of your system, not all off-grid air conditioners may be appropriate for your home.
Also, to maximize the efficiency of an off-grid air conditioner, the unit should be sized properly for your home, just as conventional air conditioners. Equipment which is the correct size for your home will produce the needed cooling without consuming excessive energy.
Energy Conservation for Off-Grid Air Conditioning
While the renewable energy sources tapped by off-grid homes are endless, they are limited in ways. Cloudy days and dark hours affect the home’s ability to generate solar power; calm days mean wind turbines won’t turn. In situations like these, power stored in the home’s battery reserves are used, making conservation a requirement.
When unfavorable conditions are present, energy can be conserved by not using the home’s air conditioner. Practicing energy conservation strategies when using off-grid air conditioning will allow the system to use less power and maintain the battery reserves.
For off-grid homeowners, energy conservation comes from lifestyle changes. Many of these conservation tips are also effective for homeowners using utility power; reducing the household’s energy demand increases energy conservation.
- Do not use multiple electrical appliances at the same time.
- Purchase ENERGY STAR rated appliances which consume less power than their alternatives.
- Use CFL or LED lightbulbs instead of incandescent lightbulbs, and turn off lighting when not in use.
- Purchase solar appliances which are designed with energy conservation in mind. For example, a solar refrigerator consumes less power and has a door that opens up, rather than out. This holds cold air inside and reduces energy waste.
Working with an alternative energy-smart heating and cooling contractor will help you keep your off-grid home comfortable! Find air conditioners that work with your power sources and maximize the energy efficiency of your off-grid air conditioning system.