When it comes to RVing, air conditioner (AC) units are essential because they help you stay cool on the hot, open road. However, these AC units draw too much electrical power, which is why I became interested in solar panels. My biggest question was “how many solar panels do I need to run my RV AC?”
How many solar panels to run air conditioner units depend on two factors – the required wattage of your unit and the size of solar panels you desire. Generally, you need a solar panel system that’s equivalent to or more than the power you need to run the AC for a certain period.
Let’s learn more about running RV AC on solar panels below.
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Knowing How Much Power Your AC Unit Is Drawing
It’s so easy to figure out how much power your AC unit is pulling when your RV has an electrical panel with an LED display. If your electrical panel has no built-in LED monitor, you can always refer to the AC’s nameplate details or plug the unit into a Kill A Wattmeter.
To calculate the total watts that you would use daily, multiply the power consumption by the number of hours you plan to use the appliance. Multiply the product by 365 days if you want to know the total watts consumed for an entire year or 120 days for one season.
Calculations would be rough because some energy-efficient ACs begin consuming less power after running cool for 2-3 hours.
Determining the Number of Panels
Let’s say you need 1500 watts to run the AC for a three-day RV trip; you can consider getting 1600 watts of solar panels. Now, the number of panels depends on how many panel watts you choose.
If you go for 100-watt panels, you’ll need 16 pieces of these babies. This is ideal if you have plenty of space on your RV roof. If you have limited roof space, you can consider getting four pieces of 400-watt solar panels to run AC unit.
Another way to estimate the number of solar panels is to use the typical production ratio for your location. Divide the AC power consumption (in kwh) by the panel wattage. Then, divide the result by the production ratio.
Let’s say you’re considering going to Washington, and the typical production ratio there is 1.1. If you intend to use 1000kWh yearly, you would need five 200W solar panels. If you go for 100-watt panels, you’ll need nine panels to generate the power needed.
Upsize Other Components
You may need to upsize the battery bank and inverter if you want to power your AC with solar panels.
It’s a fact that the sun will not be up for the entire day. Cloudy skies and winter days will give fewer hours of direct sunlight to power the flexible solar panels. To keep your AC powered even when the sun is gone, a battery bank will be handy.
To get the right battery size, consider the average electrical use per day and the number of days you’ll need extra battery backup. Between lithium-ion and deep cycle options, we recommend the former due to its better efficiency.
Most devices work on alternating current, so you’ll need an inverter to convert the DC from the battery to the AC output of your appliance. To keep the AC running, we recommend a high wattage range between 2800 to 3800 watts.
Learn how to set up solar panels in this video.
Why Use Solar Panels?
Solar power is renewable energy from the sun that’s converted into electrical energy via solar panels. These panels will absorb the sunlight, serving as an energy source to generate electricity and run your appliances. Unlike conventional fossil fuels, solar systems help minimize carbon dioxide emissions and won’t cause climate change.
Since solar is 100% renewable, you don’t need to rely on the electric grid. Lower consumption of electricity means lower electricity costs when RVing. You also have more freedom to travel to various remote locations.
Another benefit of solar panels is less maintenance. Once you have the solar panels fixed and get the wiring done correctly, you’ll only need to clean the panels 3-4 times a year. However, you need to shell out a large sum of money to install a solar panel for RV air conditioner.
So, how many solar panels do I need to run my RV AC? It depends on the total watts needed and the chosen panel size. You also need to consider the time you intend to use the AC and the typical production ratio of your chosen destination.
Using solar power for RV air conditioner is good as it offers many benefits, like reduction of electricity bills, sustainability, and less maintenance.
Did you find the information here useful? Tell us what you think about solar panels in the comment section below. You can also share this article with your friends.
Welcome to a new journey! I am Rober Clark, also a full-time RV-er and currently exploring the US with Dane. I have four years of working as a contractor, so building a home inside the RV is an extremely rewarding task for me. I find new challenges and new limits to break every day.