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Electric AC Compressors - Worth the Upgrade?

If you have ever ridden in a hybrid or electric vehicle, you probably never noticed that the air conditioning system was fully electric. Just like the changes to power steering, belt-driven components in vehicles have been replaced by fully electric components. One of the questions that come up often is can you replace your existing air conditioner compressor with an electric one?

Electric AC Compressor

Let’s start with the electric AC compressor. For almost 20 years, electric AC compressors have been used in hybrids, fully electric and some gas-powered cars. When the start-stop function became an option, there had to be an ability to keep the air conditioning system operating. It would be miserable pulling up to a stop light on a hot summer day and have the cooling suddenly stop to save fuel. Removing the dependency on engine power to drive the compressor with a belt led to development of the electric air conditioning compressor, which could possibly lead to reducing load on the engine and improving horsepower and efficiency.

If an electric AC compressor is efficient and can promote more horsepower, why can’t I switch my existing compressor in my factory air equipped classic car from belt driven to electric? Well, it’s a bit more complicated and the primary factor has to do with the power requirements. An electric AC system has traditional components such as the evaporator, condenser, etc., with an AC compressor operating off 3-phase power. To manage the electric AC compressor function, a dedicated controller is required and a larger power system is required beyond the stock 12V battery in the vehicle.

Yes, you could convert to an electric AC system, but the costs may be prohibitive. The extra weight of the larger battery and the integration of a dedicated controller system negates the efficiency and horsepower benefits of converting to a fully electric AC system. A Sanden compressor for comparison is just as efficient and more effective as it can be mounted in the factory location with very few adjustments.

Do you currently have a vehicle with an electric AC compressor? Would you attempt to do a conversion on your classic vehicle?

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