More than 600 GW of photovoltaic panels are currently installed worldwide, with the predicted total capacity increasing very rapidly every year. One essential issue in photovoltaic conversion is the massive heat generation of photovoltaic panels under sunlight, which represents 75–96% of the total absorbed solar energy and thus greatly increases the temperature and decreases the energy efficiency and lifetime of photovoltaic panels. In this report we demonstrate a new and versatile photovoltaic panel cooling strategy that employs a sorption-based atmospheric water harvester as an effective cooling component. The atmospheric water harvester photovoltaic cooling system provides an average cooling power of 295 W m–2 and lowers the temperature of a photovoltaic panel by at least 10 °C under 1.0 kW m–2 solar irradiation in laboratory conditions. It delivered a 13–19% increase in electricity generation in a commercial photovoltaic panel in outdoor field tests conducted in the winter and summer in Saudi Arabia. The atmospheric water harvester based photovoltaic panel cooling strategy has little geographical constraint in terms of its application and has the potential to improve the electricity production of existing and future photovoltaic plants, which can be directly translated into less CO2 emission or less land occupation by photovoltaic panels. As solar power is taking centre stage in the global fight against climate change, atmospheric water harvester based cooling represents an important step toward sustainability.