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Can Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner?

If you have wondered if it is possible for you to power your air conditioner with the use of solar energy, I have wondered the same thing. Luckily, I’ve found the answer and can share it with you.

Can solar panels power an RV air conditioning unit? While it is technically possible to power an RV air conditioner with solar panels, to generate enough power, a large amount of solar panels and upgrades to the electrical system would be required. Thus, as a practical matter, the vast majority of RV owners will never be able to set up their RV in a way that solar could power an AC unit.

There is a lot of work behind the possibility of using solar panels as your RV power source. Just because it is possible, does not mean it is simple. To help you understand, I will discuss some of the technicalities behind how this works.

How Solar Panels Work for Your RV:

Using solar panels as your source of power for your RV is more complex than you may think. There are many steps that the power has to go through before it is efficient.

The steps taken from the beginning to the end are as follows:

  1. Solar Panels. The primary cause of power is the solar panels. The solar panels work by allowing particles of light to free electrons from atoms, which gives the flow for electricity.
  2. The batteries. That energy transfers over to the battery bank. 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.

This is a long process to make it to the end result of power, however, it does work. By having 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. However, the issue comes when we turn to the problem of sizing.

Sizing for Your Solar to RV Power

Sizing is the most important factor in how your solar power will function with your RV. The three components that require sizing attention are solar array, battery bank, and your inverter.

1. Solar Array

If you have the intent on powering 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.

In order to meet this need, the solar panels would be required to generate 107 amps 7 hours every day (This is if it is a clear, sunny day. More is needed with more clouds).

So, to power a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, 1,500 watts of solar panels is the minimum required.

2. Battery Bank

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

The battery bank is required to be signifcantly larger in capacity without sunshine.

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

3. Inverter

The inverter is required to be extremely large. For a 13,500 BTU air conditioner, the starting wattage is 2,800- 3,000 W.

Note: It is not good to max out your inverter. To give more leeway, it would be better to require 3,500- 4,000 W.

It may be a good option to buy a soft start. This will allow you to have a smaller inverter to supply power to your RV’s air conditioner.

All three of these things are required to be extremely large. It would not be simple to supply that much energy. In order to do this, your battery bank, inverter, and the solar array would need to be larger than average. Here, you can find an ultimate buyer’s guide we wrote all about solar panels for your RV.

Is the Hassle Worth it?

It is up to you to answer this question. It depends on how worth-it you believe investing in a solar system that is large enough to meet the needs of your system.

It also depends on the size of your RV. If your RV is not large enough to accomadate for all of the solar panels, then this is probably not an option for you.

For me, it is not worth the hassle to power my RV. However, your circumstance may be different.

The Pros and Cons of 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.

Some advantages to using 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 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 energy has both advantages and disadvantages. These same pros and cons are weighed into your RV.

Although your RV solar power isn’t used as much as it would be for your home, the same applies.

Other Powering Options for Your RV:

If you are not convinced about using solar panels for your RV, there are other options available for powering your RV.

The most common sources of power for your RV are:

  1. Alternator. When an alternator is running it could produced around 180 amps of power. If it is for a small vehicle, it may have only 40 amps of power.
  2. Shore Power. Shore power runs at 120 volts compared to your battery at 12 volts.
  3. Generator. The generator is an easy solution to powering. With the flip of a switch, a generator can be used for your powering needs.

There is no right and wrong to how your power your RV. Everyone does it differently and if you have a favorite, then go for it. In this article, we go over the pros and cons to powering your RV with solar panels or generators.

Related Questions:

How many watts does it take to run an RV air conditioner?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.

Can you run your air conditioner off solar panels? You can power your air conditioner with solar panels. However, it will require a lot of energy. Some air conditioners need 2.5kw. So, your solar panel system would need to have at least 3kw to power the air conditioning.

How do I calculate solar power needs? In order to find your solar power needs, you must first find your system size number (calculated in kW). Once you know this, follow these steps:

  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.

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  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?

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