Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner

Can Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner?

Scott Rivers

Solar power has already been popular as an alternative to renewable energy. In the strive of becoming eco-friendly, thousands of homes and construction projects have adopted this power source.

The RV community is also an enthusiastic participant in this green movement. Many RVers use solar power in their trailer but most larger appliances need the traditional power source. Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner?

As an eco-conscious RVer, you might have thought about this possibility. Is it really possible to run a solar RV air conditioner?

How Do Solar Panels Power up RV Appliances?

Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner
Photo: Getty Images

Before assembling a solar panel unit for the air conditioner, you need to know how this power source works for a travel trailer. Building a power-supply rig is quite easy if you want to use solar power for RV air conditioner. You will need three things:

The solar panels transform the sunlight into energy and send it to the batter collection or battery bank. The amount of electrical power stored in the battery pack will depend on its overall capacity.

All 12-volt DC electronic appliances can receive power directly from the batteries. But the 120-volt AC appliances, such as the conditioner, are not compatible with the direct power supply. Here comes the inverter. It supplies battery power to the AC appliances.

So, the flow of electricity in a complete solar unit for an RV air conditioner will be:

Solar panels → Battery pack → Inverter → Air conditioner

Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner? The answer boils down to the size and power capacity of the panels, batteries, and inverter.

Can Solar Panels Power an RV Air Conditioner?

solar power for rv air conditioner
You will need an inverter for setting this system up. (Credit: @kris_lunning)

The simple answer is: yes. It’s technically possible to run your trailer’s air conditioner with solar power. But solar powered RV air conditioning will need an upgraded electrical system and more panels than usually required in a rig.

You might be thinking about how much solar power to run an air conditioner. Well, it depends on the A/C unit’s wattage and the size of the panels. An RV air conditioner requires between 1,700 and 3,500 watts for starting and around 600 to 1,500 watts for running. The bigger the panels are, the more power they can supply.

Expert knowledge is required to set up the solar system in your rig for powering up the appliance. Also, you will need to calculate the wattage of the unit and how many solar panels to run air conditioner.

As a matter of fact, most RV owners won’t or can’t transform their solar system to power up an A/C unit. It’s a lot of work and requires a handsome amount of money. Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner? Yes, they can but it’s not simple or budget-friendly.

How to Setup a Solar Unit to Power an RV Air Conditioner

To set up a solar system powerful enough to run the A/C unit, you will need to have a clear idea about the electricity requirement of the latter. Based on the A/C wattage, you have to select the panel size, batteries, and inverter. Expertise in electronics is necessary to upgrade the trailer’s electrical system.

For ease of the calculation, we assume that you have a 13,500 BTU A/C unit that runs for 4 hours a day and you get at least full 5 hours of sunlight every day. Also, it’s a unique situation where you don’t use any other electronics except for the air conditioner.

a. Find out the air conditioner’s amp requirements

Find out how many amps the air conditioner uses to function properly. The average RV A/C unit has a 13,500 BTU rating that draws around 12 amps. It will be around 12.5 to 13 amps for a 15,000 BTU rating. There could be bigger A/Cs with higher amp requirements.

Some RV electrical panels show the amp consumption on an LED display. If you find nothing like that, check the air conditioner’s owner manual or search online. Once you figure out the amp requirements at different settings, move on to choosing the solar panels.

b. Figure out how many solar panels to run AC unit in your RV

To run the air conditioner 4 hours per day, the battery has to deliver 600 Ah a day. Given you get 5 hours of sunlight, the solar panels have to produce 120 amps for those full 5 hours.

So, how much solar to run AC with a 13,500 BTU rating? It will be:

120 amps x 14.4 volts = 1,728 watts

So, you have to use at least 1,728 watts of solar panels for the A/C to run properly.

c. Choose the battery bank

The battery bank has to have the capacity of storing at least 650 Ah if you want to run the A/C five hours a day. However, extra capacity always comes in handy in less than ideal situations.

how much solar to run ac
Choose a battery bank more powerful than the minimum requirement. (Credit: The Ramblin CamperVan / YouTube)

If the battery bank can conserve more power, you can use that during cloudy days or outside the designated 5 hours of A/C operation. You should calculate the minimum Ah requirement and purchase a battery pack that has more capacity.

d. Install the inverter

Installing the inverter is the last part of completing this setup. You will need to convert the electricity from DC to AC since the air conditioner is an AC appliance. Choose the inverter’s capacity according to the starting wattage of the A/C unit.

For example, a 13,500 BTU A/C unit’s starting wattage will be around 2,800 to 3,000 watts. Choose an inverter rated for at least 700 to 1,200 watts more than the A/C’s starting wattage.

Conclusion

Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner? It’s clear from the above discussion that it’s possible to install a solar power system for the air conditioner.

However, it’s not a budget-friendly option since you will need more powerful panels and batteries.

Last Updated on April 2, 2021

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