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Can Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner?


solar panels power RV air conditioner

With the right set-up it’s possible for solar panels to power an RV air conditioner. This is great news since summers are hotter than ever.

The Pros and Cons of RV Solar Energy

If you are researching solar panels for you RV, you are probably fairly familiar with solar energy. Most people recognize the benefits the come with solar energy. However, some may not realize the cons associated with them. Here’s a list of both.

Some advantages to RV solar energy:

  • It’s a renewable energy source. Solar energy is 100% renewable. As long as the sun is present, solar energy is possible and can be used throughout all parts of the world.
  • Reduces the cost of electricity. Energy needs are taken care of with solar energy and therefore, you are not required to pay for electricity.
  • Diverse applications. Solar energy can be used for a variety of things. It is possible to use it for any electric purpose. It is also capable of heating.
  • Low costs for maintenance. Solar panels do not require you to maintain them very much. If you clean them off a couple of times a year, you will be set.

Some disadvantages to RV solar energy:

  • The cost. To buy solar panels, the initial price is very high. You will also need to pay for the inverter, batteries, wiring, and installation.
  • It is weather dependent. If you come from a place like me, where it is always cloudy and rainy, solar energy will not be very reliable.
  • Storage is expensive. Batteries can be charged throughout the day so that the energy can be used during the night. Either the solar energy is used right away, or it is stored.
  • It uses up a lot of space. With high electricity needs, you will have high solar panel needs to get the most sunlight possible. Solar panels require a lot of space.

Solar electric power systems in RVs and traditional homes are similar and the same principals apply.

How RV Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner

Man installs solar panels to power an RV air conditioner
If your system is big enough, you can run RV A/C with solar power.

Yes, it’s technically possible to power an RV air conditioner with solar panel. But to generate enough power, a large amount of solar panels and upgrades to the electrical system are required. Or, another device called a “Soft Start.” The vast majority of RV owners will not go to these lengths. But you are willing to design a big enough system for RV solar panels to power an RV air conditioner, keep reading.

First, The Basics of RV Solar Power Systems

There is a lot of work behind designing a system to use solar panels as your RV power source. It gets more complicated when you want solar panels to power RV air conditioner units. To help you understand, I will discuss some of the technicalities behind how this works.

Using solar panels as RV power source for an air conditioner is more complex than you may think. There are many steps that the power has to go through before it can run the A/C. The steps from beginning to end look like this:

  1. Solar Panels. Solar panels work by allowing particles of light to free electrons from atoms, which gives the flow for electricity.
  2. RV battery bank. That energy transfers over to the battery bank. Once in the battery bank, every bit of power is supplied.
  3. 12 volt DV side of RV’s electrical panel. The batteries transfer directly to the DC power side of the RV (there is a DC and AC power side).
  4. Inverter. The battery also directly supplies the power to an inverter. The inverter receives 12 volt DV electricity from the battery. The inverter transfers this energy into AC electricity.
  5. AC Side panel. After the inverter transfers the energy to the AC side of the RV, the AC side is supplied with electricity.

When the solar panels supply the energy to the batteries, all capabilities of any regular RV powering system are possible. From the batteries, all powering issues are possible. But issues occur when we turn to the problem of sizing.

Is Your RV Solar Power System Big Enough to Run A/C?

Sizing is the most important factor in how your RV solar power system will function with your RV. One size does not fit all. You need to calculate your RV solar power needs in kilowatts (kW). Once you know, follow these steps to determine the size of your RV solar power system:

  1. Multiply that number by 1,000 (there are 1,00 watts in 1 kW).
  2. Decide the wattage of the solar panels you are considering.
  3. Divide number 1 and 2.

If you want your RV solar panels to power A/C, the three components that require extra sizing attention are the solar array, battery bank, and your inverter.

1. You Need the Right Size Solar Array

You can power your air conditioner with solar panels. But they must be capable of producing a lot of energy. For instance, some air conditioners need 2.5kw. So, your solar panel system would need to have at least 3kw to continuously power the air conditioning.

If you intend to power your air conditioning for five hours per day, your air conditioning will require 750 Ah a day from the batteries.

Note: This estimate does not include any other appliances requiring power. These numbers only take into account the energy needed for air conditioning.

To meet this need, the solar panels need to generate 107 amps 7 hours every day. This is if it is a clear, sunny day. More is needed with overcast weather.

If you want to power a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, 1,500 watts of solar panels is the minimum amount required.

2. Is Your RV Battery Bank Big Enough?

With an air conditioner taking 150 amps, 150 Ah would be needed for extra things every hour the air conditioning is being used without the sun shining.

The battery bank is required to be significantly larger in use during cloudy weather or at night.

For instance, rather than having at least 300 Ah, it would need at least 700 Ah. This allows the battery to last during nighttime and cloudy hours.

3. Is Your Inverter the Right Size?

For solar panels to power an RV air conditioner, the inverter must be ginormous. For example, a 13,500 BTU air conditioner requires an inverter to have a starting wattage of about 2,800- 3,000 W. Ideally your inverter should be capable of 3,500- 4,000 W, to keep it from burning out. Other examples include:

  • For a 7,000 BTU RV air conditioner, 1,700 watts is required for start and 600 once running.
  • For a 10,000 BTU RV air conditioner, 2,000 watts is required to start up and 700 once running.
  • For a 15,000 BTU RV air conditioner, 3,500 watts is required for startup and 1,500 once running.

What About Soft Start Systems?

If you’re not willing to invest in an RV solar power system that’s larger than average, consdier an A/C/ soft starter. This will allow you to have a smaller inverter to supply power to your RV’s air conditioner. Here’s how it works according to Doug Curtis from SoftStart RV:

The SoftStartRV is an innovative device that gently smooths-out the startup power demand of the RV air conditioner’s compressor. The SoftStartRV reduces startup power demand up to an amazing 70% and it solves those A/C startup problems. 

Top 7 Questions About A/C Soft Starters Answered, CamperReport.com

Is the Hassle Worth it?

Only you can answer this question. The answer is unique to every RVer. It depends on the size of your RV. If your RV is not large enough to accommodate an RV solar power system so large, then running air conditioning with RV solar power is probably not an option for you. Again, that’s unless you want to try an A/C Soft Start system.

Conclusion

Yes, it is possible for solar panels to power an RV air conditioner. But doing so involves more than the panels themselves. If you are willing to do the math, spend the money, and install a system big enough, you can boondock with air conditioning wherever you go!

5 thoughts on “Can Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner?

  1. Im looking at buying either a residence destination trailer 9r large 5th wheel equalling a residence destination trailer. What questions should i ask at dealership? Some have solar panels already on them, some dont. Please reply as im a disabled veteran single parent & i dont want to make a mistake when buying. Thanks

  2. Another thing that you should look at before you decide what is the best air conditioner brands to buy is the energy efficiency of different models. Energy efficiency is important because, when you use cooling, your unit is taking heat from inside the room and converting it to cool air outside of the unit.

  3. Hi! Thanks for this article, it pulled me back from days on days of loosing my mind to this research.

    One question though, what about charge controller size for this example?

  4. good afternoon I am interested three air conditioner for a medical mobile vehicle which has three rooms of 2.20 x 2.10 each which will work at least 10 hours a day I would like to indicate the air model recommended by you send me catalog and value form payment and shipping to quito ecuador.
    I appreciate your kind help to work with this type of air since we are a medical services company that manufacture our own units thanks.

  5. good afternoon I am interested three air conditioner for a medical mobile vehicle which has three rooms of 2.20 c.c x 2.10 c.c. each which will work at least 10 hours a day I would like to indicate the air model recommended by you send me catalog and value form payment and shipping to quito ecuador.
    I appreciate your kind help to work with this type of air since we are a medical services company that manufacture our own units thanks.

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