Renewable energy has already become a popular option for many green construction projects and homes. And if you are an RV owner and want to install a solar panel, it’s a great way to reduce your energy costs. It will also increase your ability to live better off-grid.
But how much wattage can solar energy generate? Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner? Many RV owners have to deal with these or other similar questions a lot. And the question is quite valid.
Most of the RV air conditioners need around 1700W to 3500W to power up. To keep them running, they need about 600W to 1500W. To determine what type of solar panels, you must find out the exact amount of wattage that your AC unit needs to power up and run and the size of the solar panels required to run it.
So, you need to properly set your rig up to use the solar panel and other appliances with solar energy. And in this guide, we will discuss all the intricacies of setting up a solar panel in your RV to run your AC and other appliances.
Pros & Cons of RV Solar Power
Solar power is mostly referred to as an endless power source. Still, the reality behind these terms and the actuality of harnessing the power from it are difficult to patch up even with modern world advancements.
The most prominent of all the positives that solar energy has on offer is its renewability. Wherever the sun is going to rise, your entire installation will work and start producing energy that is 100% renewable.
Of course, there are times when it’s overcast, and the system is not going to work fully efficiently.
As the sun is powering you, you won’t have to rely on an electric grid at all. You won’t need to hook your RV up all the time. Even if it’s not operating at 100% efficiency, it will still not require electricity and give you more freedom to access genuinely remote locations.
You can use this solar energy for a range of other purposes as well. As we focus on using it for RV AC, you can utilize it for powering heating and electrical applications.
Another reason why you should consider solar energy is, it doesn’t need much maintenance. Once those panels and their wirings are appropriately installed, you will only have to clean your panels correctly approximately quarterly a year to ensure they keep operating adequately throughout the year.
But solar energy is not all about positives, and there are some negatives associated with it. You will need batteries and wiring to power them up, and there is additional hardware to secure the panels.
Solar energy relies heavily on the sun, and if there is cloud cover, then 100% efficiency is impossible to achieve. And their batteries (especially the large capacity ones) will further add to the overall expense. Based on your RV size, you will end up installing these panels on most of the space available on your roof.
How do These Solar Panels Work in an RV?
To understand this entire process, you need first to understand various parts of an installation. You have those panels that are connected to batteries. These batteries directly supply power to all of those 12V DC electronics.
For powering 12V AC electronics like that air conditioner, you need to install an inverter. So the panels gather the energy from the sun and store it in those battery banks. The batteries supply power to all 12V DC electronics directly while it supplies power to 12V AC electronics through an inverter.
The amount of energy you can store from the sunlight is directly based on the batteries’ size. Each RV has a DC and an AC side on its electrical panel. For the conversion to power the 12V AC electronic, you will have to install the inverter right between the electric panel and your solar panel’s battery bank.
This entire installation process is not that complex at all. You will only have to understand the flow of energy. It all depends upon the size of the components you are using.
How to Power an RV AC with Solar?
Choosing the size of the components
You must know how many amps your AC needs to run. Most of the units come with a rating of around 13,500 BTUs. You can also find units with larger ACs as well and of course, there are smaller units available.
If the electric panel in your RV has a display and tells you about how many amps you are drawing, then finding how many amps an AC system pulls won’t be that difficult.
You can also install an RV surge protector with an LED display, especially if your RV’s motor doesn’t come with an LED display. When you have found the figure, it will be easier for you to determine what size of components you should go for.
See also: How to recharge RV air conditioner?
How many solar panels in a solar array
It’s not just about determining the amperage of your RV AC. You must also find out how many hours per day you will be running your AC. Running it for 4 hours per day will draw around 600 ampere-hours daily from those batteries.
For instance, if you have parked around a hill where the daily sunlight you receive is around 5 hours throughout the day, your solar array needs to produce at least 120 amperes for those five hours daily to make sure the battery recharges properly.
Sizing the battery bank
Now it’s time to talk about electricity storage. There are not many calculations involved in this step here. With an AC unit that can draw 150 amperes, you will need 150 ampere-hours hourly as you plan to run the AC at night time (or when the sun isn’t shining).
Running the AC for an additional hour ahead of the sleeping time might be comfortable for you to go to sleep, but it will cost you additional 150 ampere-hours. If you have the capacity, you can undoubtedly go for it.
Your battery bank’s capacity will tell you how much you can operate your AC when the sun is not out. Using the above example, you will need 650 ampere-hours daily, at least in your batteries, before you go to sleep.
It’s simple; you need to determine your average daily use that is measured in watt-hours. And then, you will have to determine how many days you must backup in case of an emergency or when you are off-grid.
After that, you need to assess the average discharge depth for the battery bank and the average temperature your batteries will be exposed to during your trips.
Connecting the inverter to the solar array
Now, it’s time to connect that inverter and integrate it into your solar power system. This inverter converts direct current into the alternate current to power 12V AC.
You need to pick the size of the inverter based on the starting wattage of your air conditioner. Most 13,500 BTU ACs need 2800W to 3000W in the starting. So, the purpose is not to max out your inverter each time you turn on the solar power system.
Hence, you will need a 3500W to 4000W inverter in your system. But running wattage is always less than the starting wattage. You have to carefully look at the starting wattage more closely to choose the best inverter.
Does All This Hassle Worth It?
Everyone has different priorities and can access these pros and cons in various manners.
Solar energy is a costly investment upfront, but you will break even reasonably quickly due to the savings that it has to offer. If you already own a small RV, you might not have enough space to install more panels.
So, it won’t be a sensible thing to do. But for remote RVing, you will find solar panels a better option than burning all your fuels when you’re off-grid.
Frequent RVing will also enable you to get the ROI, but it’s not going to be there if you take a few trips throughout the year. You will break even in the long run, but you will feel that it is more of an expense than anything else.
It also works great for other ways of alternate housing.
Before installing your solar array, you need to know the energy you consume each day, including your air conditioner. Finding this will determine how much energy you need to run your entire system and the required hours per day.
Make sure to go for more significant components with larger capacities when you run the appliances along with your AC.
Asen is the owner and main contributor of Camper Life. He is a full-time RV traveler since 2018. He loves camping in nature, fishing, and spending time with his family.
Striving to provide the most valuable information about campers and RVs, he shares everything he learned over the years.
That’s why Camper Life is one of the best sources to find information about RV traveling and living.