How Many Solar Panels to Run an RV Air Conditioner

Embarking on an RV adventure is an exhilarating experience, but maintaining a comfortable temperature during those scorching summer days can be challenging. A well-functioning air conditioner is important to ensure a pleasant journey, and harnessing the power of the sun is an efficient and eco-friendly solution.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll help you to determine the exact number of solar panels needed to run your RV air conditioner, explore solar panel efficiency, and provide expert tips to optimize your solar-powered RV setup. Get ready to embrace the benefits of solar energy and enjoy a cool, comfortable, and sustainable RV experience.

How Many Solar Panels to Run an RV Air Conditioner

For an average-sized RV air conditioner (around 13,000 BTUs), it is advisable to have a minimum of 1,500 watts of solar power to ensure optimal performance. This amount of solar power can efficiently support the air conditioner, keeping your RV cool and comfortable during hot summer days.

If your RV, school bus, or large vehicle has ample roof space, you could consider installing a set of 16 solar panels of 100-watt power. This configuration will provide you with a total of 1,600 watts of solar power, offering a reliable and sustainable energy source to keep your air conditioner running smoothly while minimizing your dependence on traditional electricity sources.

Find Out More: Can You Run an RV Air Conditioner While Driving?

Calculate the Number of Solar Panels Needed to Run an RV Air Conditioner

Calculating the number of solar panels required to power your RV air conditioner involves several essential factors, including air conditioner power consumption, solar panel output, battery storage, and system efficiency. To help you estimate the number of solar panels needed, follow these detailed steps:

Step 1: Determine the air conditioner’s power consumption

Check the label or manual of your RV air conditioner to find its power consumption in watts. Typical RV air conditioners consume between 1200-1800 watts.

Step 2: Calculate the daily energy consumption

Multiply the air conditioner’s power consumption (from Step 1) by the number of hours you expect to use it per day. This will give you the daily energy consumption in watt-hours (Wh).

Example: If your air conditioner uses 1500 watts and you plan to run it for 4 hours a day:
1500 watts * 4 hours = 6000 Wh

Step 3: Convert watt-hours to amp-hours

Divide the daily energy consumption (from Step 2) by the voltage of your RV battery system, usually 12 volts for most RVs.

Example: 6000 Wh / 12 volts = 500 amp-hours (Ah)

Step 4: Account for system inefficiencies

Solar systems are not 100% efficient due to energy losses in the inverter, wiring, and other components. To account for these inefficiencies, multiply the daily amp-hour requirement (from Step 3) by 1.3.

Example: 500 Ah * 1.3 = 650 Ah

Step 5: Calculate solar panel output

Determine the average number of sun hours per day in your location. Use solar irradiance maps or consult local solar installers for this information. Then, divide the adjusted daily amp-hour requirement (from Step 4) by the average sun hours per day.

Example: If you have 5 sun hours per day:
650 Ah / 5 sun-hours = 130 Ah per sun-hour

Step 6: Determine the required solar panel wattage

Multiply the Ah per sun-hour value (from Step 5) by the voltage of your RV battery system (usually 12 volts) to find the required solar panel wattage.

Example: 130 Ah * 12 volts = 1560 watts

Step 7: Choose the number and size of solar panels

Select the solar panels based on the required wattage (from Step 6) and their individual wattage. Divide the total required wattage by the wattage of a single solar panel to find the number of panels needed.

Example: If you choose 300-watt solar panels:
1560 watts / 300 watts = 5.2 panels

Since you can’t have a fraction of a panel, you would need 6 solar panels in this example.

Step 8: Install and enjoy

Install the solar panels, charge controller, inverter, and any necessary wiring. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines during the installation process. Once installed, enjoy the benefits of powering your RV air conditioner with solar energy.

It’s important to remember that these calculations serve as a starting point and are approximate values. Your specific needs, RV setup, and available space for solar panels will also influence the ideal number of solar panels. To ensure the most accurate and tailored solution, consult with a solar panel expert or retailer to fine-tune your solar setup and receive personalized recommendations.

Find Out More: How To Keep RV Cool In Summer?

Factors to Consider When Installing Solar Panels for Your RV Air Conditioner

When planning and installing solar panels for your RV air conditioner, it’s essential to take into account various factors that will influence the system’s overall efficiency and effectiveness. Here are some crucial aspects to consider:

Panel type:

Solar panels come in different types, each with its own efficiency levels, sizes, and costs. Monocrystalline panels have the highest efficiency, followed by polycrystalline and thin-film panels. Choose the panel type that best suits your budget, space constraints, and desired efficiency.

Battery capacity:

A high-capacity battery system is crucial for storing excess energy generated by your solar panels. This allows your air conditioner to run during cloudy days or when sunlight is limited. Consider investing in deep-cycle batteries designed for solar energy storage, such as lithium-ion or AGM batteries.

When the sun is not shining an air conditioner takes at least 100 – 150 Ah from the batteries to run for one hour. So we recommend that you keep a minimum 700 – 800 Ah battery bank to have an undisturbed power supply to the RV AC.

For better performance, we advise you to use the latest lithium batteries available in the market because they are more efficient and compact. Whereas the old lead acid batteries are quite heavy and they easily get damaged if their charging finishes.

Inverter size:

An inverter converts the direct current (DC) generated by solar panels into alternating current (AC) required by most air conditioners. Ensure your inverter is compatible with your air conditioner’s power requirements and can handle the load without overheating or causing damage.

An AC unit needs a lot of power for working so you need a strong inverter that can handle its load. If you have a 13,500 BTU AC in your RV then it will take around 3000 – 3500 watts of energy to start, so you should choose an inverter that can take the load up to 3500 – 4000 watts. If you install a weak inverter it will overheat and there are chances of burning out too.

Find Out More: RV Converter Not Charging Battery

System monitoring:

Investing in a solar charge controller and monitoring system can help you track your solar panel performance, battery charge levels, and overall energy consumption. This information is valuable for optimizing your system and ensuring peak efficiency.

Installation location:

The positioning of your solar panels plays a vital role in their efficiency. Make sure they are installed in a location with maximum sunlight exposure throughout the day. Also, consider the angle at which the panels are mounted to optimize their performance based on your geographical location and the sun’s path.

Weather protection:

Solar panels are built to withstand harsh weather conditions, but it’s essential to ensure that they are adequately protected against heavy rain, snow, or hail. Choose solar panels with durable frames and high-quality materials that can endure extreme weather conditions.


As your power needs evolve or if you decide to upgrade your RV appliances in the future, it’s wise to plan for a solar power system that can easily be expanded. Make sure your chosen solar panels, charge controller, and inverter can accommodate potential additions or modifications to your setup.

Professional installation:

While it’s possible to install your solar power system yourself, hiring a professional installer can save you time, effort, and potential headaches. An experienced installer will ensure that your solar panels, batteries, and other components are correctly installed, connected, and optimized for maximum performance.

How To Achieve Maximum Efficiency Through Solar Panels?

While choosing solar panels you may get confused because you will come across different shapes and technologies. To achieve maximum efficiency look for the following qualities in your solar panels.

1. 24-Volt Panels:

Previously campers used 12-volt solar panels to fulfill their power needs but now they are switching to 24-volt panels because they are bigger in size and produce more energy. The shape of a 24-volt panel is square which is more suited for an RV roof.

As their output is more you will have to install less number of panels and the number of connecting cables will also decrease which means your RV roof will not look like a maze of panels and cables anymore. The latest 24-volt batteries are compatible with various types of batteries and charge controllers. So your pairing options will also increase if you choose 24-volt solar panels.

2. Monocrystalline Panels:

Monocrystalline panels are black in color and they are more efficient as compared to polycrystalline panels which are blue in color. But these panels are expensive whereas polycrystalline panels are available at a lower price. If you ask us we will recommend you spend a little more money and buy monocrystalline panels because you cannot change your solar panels again and again.

The space on an RV roof is also very tight so you need solar panels with high efficiency to produce enough power to run an air conditioner. If you don’t intend to use an air conditioner in your RV then polycrystalline panels are also good enough.

3. Roof-Mounted Panels:

If we talk about efficiency ground-mounted panels are better because you can adjust them according to the direction of the sun but they are not practical if you want to travel in your RV. The best option for traveling is to have roof-mounted solar panels because they will keep charging your batteries throughout the journey.

You can also keep extra ground-mounted solar panels in your RV so that whenever you make a stop you can connect them with your batteries to have some added boost in charging.

Find Out More: What Size Generator to Run 13,500 Btu Air Conditioner?

What Are The Advantages Of Using Solar Panels For RV AC?

The biggest advantage of solar energy is that it is never going to finish. Every day the sun will rise to charge your solar panels and you will get a continuous power supply if you attach batteries to your panels. Especially, during the worrisome time when our planet is running out of energy sources, we should choose renewable energy as an alternative.

By installing solar panels on your RV you will save yourself from the constant expenditure of money on generator fuel. Solar panels are expensive as compared to a generator but they are a one-time investment that pays you off in the longer run.

Even if you don’t need to run your RV air conditioner, you can use the power produced by solar panels for multiple purposes. The maintenance of solar panels is also very easy, you just need to clean them after two to three months.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using Solar Panels For RV AC?

The first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the disadvantages of solar panels is the cost you will have to spend to purchase them. Solar panels are quite expensive and they need a lot of equipment with them which further increases the total cost.

Another issue is that they require a lot of space so if you are going to travel in a small RV then you cannot install enough solar panels that support an air conditioner. The power produced by solar panels relies on the weather. If the weather gets cloudy your solar panels will not perform well.

You need batteries to keep your air conditioner running during the nighttime when your solar panels stop working. So we can say that just installing solar panels to run your RV AC is not sufficient.

Summing Up:

In a nutshell, solar panels are a decent option to run an RV AC but before installing solar panels you should do thorough research about them so that you install efficient and sufficient panels according to your needs and your budget.

Multiple factors influence the performance of solar panels which we have discussed in this article. We hope that this guide will help you install the right amount of solar panels that can run your RV air conditioner without any trouble. Once you have installed solar panels correctly on your RV you can enjoy air conditioning without any worry!

Frequently-Asked Related Questions (FAQs):

In this section, we address some common questions related to solar panels for RV air conditioners, providing you with the essential knowledge to make informed decisions about your solar-powered RV system.

Can I run my RV air conditioner solely on solar power?

Yes, it’s possible to run your RV air conditioner exclusively on solar power, provided you have enough solar panels, a sufficient battery storage system, and a compatible inverter. However, factors such as weather conditions, geographical location, and solar panel efficiency will impact your system’s performance.

Can I use portable solar panels for my RV air conditioner?

While portable solar panels can be a convenient and flexible option for RV solar power, they may not provide enough energy to power an RV air conditioner effectively. Portable solar panels typically have lower output and efficiency compared to permanently installed panels. However, if you have a smaller air conditioning unit with low power consumption or only need supplemental power, portable solar panels could be a viable option. Always consult with solar panel experts or retailers to determine the best solution for your specific needs.

How many solar panels do I need to run a 5,000 BTU air conditioner?

To run a 5,000 BTU air conditioner, you will need approximately 1,500 watts of solar panel capacity. This can be achieved with 4-6 solar panels, depending on their wattage output (300-375W per panel). Factors like location, sunlight hours, and panel efficiency should also be considered for accurate sizing.

How much solar power do I need for a 30-amp RV?

To determine solar power needed for a 30-amp RV, first, estimate your daily energy consumption in watt-hours (Wh). For instance, if you consume 3,600 Wh (3.6 kWh) daily, you would need a solar system generating around 1,200 watts (1.2 kW) at peak sunlight hours. This can be achieved with 4 solar panels rated at 300 watts each. However, factors like location, sunlight hours, and panel efficiency should be considered.

Can a 100-watt solar panel run an air conditioner?

A 100-watt solar panel cannot directly run an air conditioner, as air conditioners typically require much higher wattage. For example, a 5,000 BTU air conditioner needs approximately 1,500 watts. A 100-watt solar panel could contribute to powering an air conditioner when connected to a larger solar system with battery storage and an inverter, but it would not be sufficient on its own.

How many solar panels do I need to run a 12,000 BTU air conditioner?

To run a 12,000 BTU air conditioner, you will need approximately 3,500 watts of solar panel capacity. This can be achieved with 10-12 solar panels, depending on their wattage output (300-350W per panel). Factors like location, sunlight hours, and panel efficiency should also be considered for accurate sizing. Remember to include an inverter and battery storage system to accommodate energy conversion and storage needs. Consult a solar expert to tailor a system to your specific requirements.

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