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Can RV Solar Panels Run AC?

RV solar panels are a game-changer for those who are tired of paying for gas to run their generator. Solar panels come in countless sizes and forms, allowing a great deal of flexibility when powering your mobile adventure wagon.

RV solar panels can absolutely run air conditioning, but it’s important to plan accordingly. As with all mobile power sources, it’s vital that you accommodate your vehicle’s power needs.

By installing the proper solar panels, you can run just about anything you want in your RV – assuming you follow the information below.

Powering Your Gear

RV air conditioning takes up a lot of power, so it’s important to have the necessary equipment first. So what does that mean?

Battery Banks

Battery banks are a pretty simple concept with a vital job – no matter your power source, they’re where the power is stored. Without batteries, you wouldn’t have a store of power for times without sun or gas (if you’re using a generator).

For the uninitiated, a battery bank is a series of batteries linked in parallel to allow excess power from your source to be stored safely. These are especially handy with RVs, as power is a rare commodity in them. When paired with solar panels, they allow you to keep extra power when there’s no sun (so you know, at night).

This is important to powering an AC because air conditioning units take up a lot of power. The average 15,000 BTU (British Thermal Units) unit will take roughly 3,200 watts to start. It’ll also take an additional ~1,200-1,700 watts to run every hour after that.

Calculating Your Needs

This is pretty simple math, but it’s math nonetheless – so get your calculator. First, figure out how many square feet you have in your RV. Now, multiply that by 20 BTUs per square foot. That’s the rough estimate you need to heat or cool your RV.

Now check what the average wattage from your solar panels is – does it exceed the startup and average wattage required of your AC? Then you’re set. If not, you’ll need to figure out a different power source (or improve the existing one) to power an effective AC unit in your RV.

Inverter Requirements

If you already have solar panels, you’re likely familiar with the term “inverter.” For those new to the solar game, an inverter does what its name implies – inverts power. In other words, it changes the power you get from your panels (DC) into usable AC electricity. Essentially, without one, your solar panels are useless.

That’s why it’s important to know what max wattage your inverter can handle – you don’t want it blowing out on you. Generally, most RVs will be good with an inverter with a wattage range of 2,500-3,000, though your mileage may vary. It’s always better to have some spare wattage than being forced to decide between AC and light.

In short, as with all electronics – check your equipment’s power needs before hooking everything up and making purchases. It’ll save you a headache in the long run… and likely some money, too.

I Don’t Have Solar Panels – What Should I Know?

If you really want to power an AC unit along with your other gadgets, solar panels are the most affordable (long-term) option to do so. They’re expensive upfront, but pay off in the long run. Here’s how to pick what you need.

Weight

As with all things in an RV, your solar panels’ weight is really important. So finding the right balance between size, weight, and power supply is important – too big or heavy and you risk tipping on sharp corners. Solar panels can range in weight from 5-50 pounds, and come in varied sizes, so it’s important to read their details before buying.

Size

Contrary to popular myth – size matters… for solar panels. You’ve got a limited space to work with, so planning for where they go is vital to their installation. Make sure to find the right balance between the number and size of solar panels. It’s better to have a few large, high-quality (perhaps residential) solar panels than a dozen cheap small ones.

This is even more important when deciding on an AC unit because they are often installed on the roof. If you’ve got about 4 square inches of space available on the roof thanks to a massive collection of solar panels, where will you put the air conditioner? I mean, it’s great that you have massive amounts of power, but what will you use it on?

Power Supply

Make sure your solar panels can supply the power you need. As stated above, it’s better to have spare power than being left wanting when it’s really needed. Be sure to calculate the power needs of all the gadgets you plan to run when out and about before planning solar panel installation.

Final Thoughts

Powering an AC unit with solar power is entirely within the realm of possibility, but it can be both power-hungry and expensive to get started. By ensuring your batteries can store the proper charge, your panels can gather enough charge, and your inverter can handle the charge – you’ll be set.
Just be sure to plan ahead and get all of the power requirements and measuring out of the way first – trust me, it’s worth it.

Related Questions

Can I Use A Swamp Cooler In My RV?

Yes. This is a much cheaper and energy-hungry alternative to traditional AC units. Those in extremely dry environments also benefit from slightly more humid air, as well.

How Much Do Solar Panels Cost?

They’re expensive at startup, but pay off in the long run. An average RV solar setup runs around roughly $4,000, though you can certainly spend more or less depending on your rig and needs.

What Are BTUs?

British Thermal Units (BTUs) are used as a form of measurement for air conditioning. One BTU is the amount of energy required to heat a pound of water by 1° Fahrenheit. Required BTUs to cool your home or RV can be calculated by multiplying each square foot of space by 20 BTUs.

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