Last Updated on December 31, 2021 by Douglas
If you want to travel in an RV, you will need air conditioning. Especially if you plan on traveling to locations with hot weather. Air conditioners can help make your RVs interior cool and comfortable. But they require a lot of energy to operate. Some people get generators to power their air conditioners. This is a decent enough solution, but it’s not very convenient. You will have to keep spending money on fuel in order to make the generator work. Also, you will need to stay close to a fuel source otherwise you would no longer be able to operate your air conditioner. This can greatly limit your adventures and cause a lot of inconvenience down the line.
This is why we strongly recommend that you use solar panels instead. Using a solar panel to power your air conditioner means that you would be able to run it constantly. Without needing a generator that burns up expensive fuel. However, solar panels need to be better understood before they can be used properly.
We have create a detailed outline of the pros and cons of solar panels, how they operate, how you can use them as well as some questions that a lot of people tend to ask about these sorts of things. We will start off by discussing the advantages associated with using solar panels to power your air conditioner. After this, we will discuss the disadvantages as well. It’s important that you get an accurate idea of the pros and cons. Obtaining a balanced view about solar panels will give you an idea of what to expect.
Advantages of Using Solar Power For RV Air Conditioner
It’s a Renewable Energy Source That Doesn’t Harm the Planet
There will be no more fuel pit stops after you get a solar panel to power your AC. The sun is a more or less limitless source of energy. It will be billions of years before it burns out. That’s so far away that you might as well not think about it. All solar panels need in order to function is sunlight. This means that you will have a constant supply of fuel that you would never have to go anywhere for.
There are some pretty huge environmental benefits to this sort of thing as well. The fuel that most cars use is bad for the environment. Extracting it from the Earth causes all sorts of problems. It ruins the natural habitats of all kinds of animals. As well as polluting our oceans and the very food that we eat.
The use of fossil fuels also leads to global warming. Whenever you burn a fossil fuel, greenhouse gases are emitted. These gases trap heat in our atmosphere. Which leads to far higher temperatures globally. As a result, weather patterns are changing. We are starting to see more extreme weather all around the world. The ice caps are melting as well. This is causing sea levels to rise. Areas on the coast are at particular risk. So using solar panels is important. It might be the only way to prevent a total catastrophe in the future.
It’s a More Affordable Energy Solution
Constantly having to pay for fuel can be a huge burden on your finances. You can survive on limited funds for a very long period of time as long as you don’t have to pay for fuel. Sunlight is never going to be something that you have to pay to access. It’s freely available in every corner of the world. Unless you are in some kind of area far up north where the sun goes down for days at a time. If you’re in such an area, maybe consider moving before you get an RV to travel the world!
Jokes aside, using solar panels can be a very cost effective energy solution. Air conditioners require an enormous amount of energy. They are possibly the most energy hungry items that you would have in your RV. It makes a lot of sense to hook your AC up to a solar panel. That way, you can provide high quantities of energy to the appliance that needs it the most. No other appliance in your RV is going to use nearly as much energy as your AC. So the savings here are going to be quite substantial.
It Gives You The Freedom to Travel
It can be very restrictive to use a gas or fuel powered generator. Such a thing can often limit the areas that you would be able to explore. Because you would always need to be close to a fuel source that you can use to keep your generator running. If you truly want to have an adventure, you need solar panels. They enable you to go further than you would have ever managed to go previously. What’s more is that they allow you to live completely off the grid.
If you have never lived off the grid before, you should try it some time. It’s actually a very liberating way to spend your life. Not only would it allow you to disconnect from the mundane routine that you might have gotten used to, but it allows you to explore the world as well. Using solar panels is something that everyone should do at least once. You get a lot more freedom with them. Since they provide an energy source that can be accessed from the vast majority of locations in the world.
It’s a Stress Free Solution
This is something that makes solar panels a far better solution than any kind of generator that uses fossil fuels. Most generators require a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Especially if you use them for very energy heavy appliances and utilities such as air conditioners. The more you use a generator, the more maintenance it would require. This is a huge expense. But the main reason why it’s an inconvenience is because of how much time it consumes.
Solar panels, on the other hand, don’t require much maintenance at all. You can pretty much use them for years and years and the chances of them needing repairs are low. The only maintenance that solar panels require is occasional cleaning and the like. This is a lot easier to handle than calling a technician because your generator isn’t starting.
If your generator isn’t maintained, it will stop working. Hence, you would no longer be able to use your air conditioner. Your AC is something that you simply wouldn’t be able to travel comfortably without. Solar panels take the stress of such situations away from you. They are a dependable energy solution. They don’t cost a lot of money to repair or maintain. And furthermore, they are great for the environment which is another thing that would reduce the stress you end up experiencing on a day to day basis.
Disadvantages of Using Solar Panels
It Needs Sunlight to Work
The sun comes up every day. However, what goes up must also come down. The same goes for the sun. Solar panels need the sun to be up in order to work properly. Hence, when nighttime comes around you might find yourself without power. You would need batteries that can store the solar power that is generated. That way, even when the sun goes down you would be able to use the power from the batteries to keep your air conditioner running.
Even during the day, solar panels might not work. It all depends on the kind of weather you have on that particular day. The clearer the skies, the more efficiently your solar panels would be able to function. If it’s an overcast day or if it is raining, your solar panels might not work as well as you need them to. They might not even work at all if the cloud cover is dense enough. These situations are fairly rare, though. You can handle them quite easily by placing your solar panels efficiently. Still, this is an issue that you should keep in mind before starting using solar panels.
It Costs a Lot to Implement Initially
The cost is another huge disadvantage for solar panels. If you want to use solar panels, you will have to cough up a lot of money as an initial investment. This money would go towards things like the solar panels themselves as well as other items that you need to get. Solar panels can’t work on their own, after all. You also need a mount that would cost a lot of money. Batteries are also required if you want to be able to use solar power twenty four hours a day. Another essential item that you would need to get is a solar inverter. You won’t be able to use solar power without some kind of an inverter.
While solar panels do save you money in the long run, not everyone can afford this much of an initial investment. That said, a lot of solar panel manufacturers offer discounts and payment plans. If you use such a payment plan, you can gradually pay off the cost of your solar panels over a period of time. That way you can reap the benefits without having to empty out your bank account.
It Takes Up a Lot of Space
This is another problem that you might need to take into consideration. If you have a small or compact RV, solar panels might not be a feasible solution for you. They might take up your entire roof. This would be a problem if you have limited space. The roof is often a popular area for people to relax. You would probably have to give this up if you want to use solar panels. Unless you have an RV or motorhome that is on the larger side.
Solar panels are also quite heavy. The more weight you have on your RV, the harder it is going to be to maneuver. Most people want to keep the extra weight that they add onto their RV as minimal as possible. Otherwise the maximum speed of your vehicle could decrease. This is another reason why people with small travel trailers might want to forego solar panels. The weight that they can add could unbalance your vehicle. Particularly if you are traveling on a bumpy or slippery road. You can still make it work if you drive carefully, though. Some might say that the benefits of solar panels make slightly more difficult maneuvering more than worth it.
How Do They Work?
Solar panels might sound mysterious and complicated. However, they’re actually quite simple to understand. The panel itself is made up of several small solar cells. Each solar cell is made out of silicon. When sunlight hits silicon, it excites the particles inside of it. Specifically the electrons. When the electrons are exposed to heat and solar energy, they start to vibrate a lot faster. Many of them are knocked loose from the silicon’s atomic structure. When they are knocked loose, they travel up the copper wires that have been put in place and thereby power your appliances.
One thing should be noted here. The electricity that solar panels create is a direct current. The vast majority of modern appliances can only run on an alternating current. This is why a solar inverter is so important. It converts DC to AC and makes the solar energy usable. Without a solar inverter, you might be able to generate a lot of energy but it really won’t be of much use to you. You might just be better off looking into other options. Solar inverters drive up the price of your overall solar setup but this is crucial to the successful functioning of your solar panels.
Using Solar Panels to Power Your AC
Figure Out What Size Solar Panel You’re Going to Need
The first thing that you need to do here is see how big your air conditioning unit is. Most RVs come with a midsized air conditioning unit. They have an energy rating of 13,500 BTUs or around that number. Hence, your solar panel setup would need to be big enough to power such an appliance. Chances are that your solar setup would come with an LED display. This display would should you the number of amps that are being pulled from the panel. If you have a display like this then the process of figuring out how big your solar panel would be is quite simple.
All you need to do is turn your AC on and monitor the number of amps that are being pulled. You can then convert this into a number of watts and get solar panels that conform to this number. You can get a surge protector if your panel doesn’t come with a display. Surge protectors always have displays that you can use. They also protect your appliances from dips in electricity, as well as moments where the power supply might suddenly surge. Electrical surges can do a lot of damage to all kinds of appliances, air conditioners in particular.
Analyze The Adequate Number of Solar Panels For Your Purposes
You need to decide how many hours you’re planning to leave your AC on to calculate this number. Four hours of AC usage would end up drawing 600 amps in total from your solar panels. Generally speaking you can expect to get around five hours of usable sunlight on average. This means that your solar panels need to be able to generate 120 amps per hour. If you multiply that number by 14.4, which is the number of volts an average solar panel produces, you would get about 1,700 or so. That’s the number of watts that you are going to need.
Hence, the solar panels you get should come up to around 1,700 watts in total per day. The average solar panel offers around 200 watts. At this number, you would need at least 8 or 9 solar panels to power your air conditioner. If you get ten you would be able to power your AC for longer. You might even be able to power a few other appliances with the solar panels as well. What’s more is that ten is a nice even number so arranging your solar panels properly would become a lot easier.
Get The Right Sized Battery Bank
You can use solar panels without batteries. However, doing so would prevent you from getting the maximum benefits from said solar panel. Without a battery your solar panel would be restricted to only providing power a few times a day. Solar panels produce a lot more energy than you can use. Their rate of energy production far exceeds your usage, especially if you are only using them to power a single AC unit. Hence, if you get a battery, all of the excess energy that would otherwise have been wasted can instead be stored for later use. This way you would never run out of power.
A lot of factors influence your decision regarding which battery you should buy. Even things like ambient temperature tend to impact this sort of thing. Generally, though, you need a battery that has enough amp hours to keep your AC running. An AC that uses 150 amps per hour would need a battery that has a capacity which totals the number of amps used per hour multiplied by the number of hours you want to use your AC after the sun goes down. If you plan on using the AC for three hours at night, a 500 Ah battery should do the trick.
Don’t Forget to Buy a Solar Inverter
This is the most important aspect of your solar setup. It’s possible to use solar panels without batteries. However, you can’t even begin to use them without a solar inverter. One thing that you need to understand here is that air conditioners use a lot more watts while they are starting up. They often use up to 3,000 watts during the startup process. After the AC has fully started, it would use a lot less watts per hour.
However, you need to get your solar inverter according to this starting wattage. In fact, you might want to exceed this wattage to prevent any kinds of issues from occurring. Get a solar inverter with a capacity of 3,500 watts. This would reduce the load on it whenever you start your AC up. Maxing out your solar inverter can damage it if you do it too frequently. Creating a buffer of 500 watts can protect your inverter. This would prevent any maintenance or repair costs from being incurred. As well as ensuring consistent operation of your air conditioner which is something that would prove to be quite beneficial for you.
A Guide to Installing Solar Panels in Your RV
Before we get started on the guide, we want to mention a factor that can influence the installation process. There are two kinds of solar panels that you can get. One kind is rigid whereas the other is flexible. Flexible solar panels are a lot easier to place but are also way more expensive. They are more efficient as well so the price is definitely worth it. Either way, the process of installing them would remain the same. You would just have to alter your approach based on whether you have rigid or flexible solar panels.
Place The Panels on Your Roof
It would be a good idea for you to lay the panels out before you set them up. Experiment with different arrangements and see what works best for you. Once the solar panels have been installed it can be very difficult to change their positions. So you should try your best to get the layout down beforehand. A good layout can make a huge difference to the efficacy of your solar panel. It can help you keep your solar panels working even in overcast conditions. You should ensure that there are no shadow casting objects near your solar panel. Such objects can reduce the efficacy of your solar panels since they would prevent sunlight from reaching them.
Set Up The Mounting Rack
This is a somewhat technical process. You need a bit of engineering prowess in order to do this properly. Mostly because it contributes to the stability of your solar panels. An important part of this is applying the sealant. This sealant will help keep your RV watertight. It needs to be applied under the mount so that water doesn’t start leaking into your RV. This is a really important step that many people forget which leads to massive problems that might ruin your significant investment in solar power.
Attach The Solar Panels to The Mounting Apparatus
This is another process that requires quite a bit of technical expertise. The main thing that you need to avoid here is somehow putting a screw through the solar panel. You need to put the screws through the borders of the panel directly into the mount itself. If the screw pierces the panel at any point, it would limit the effectiveness of said panel at best. At worst, it might just make the panel stop working entirely. We recommend that you hire a professional to do this since the chances of you making a grave mistake here are quite high.
Connect The Battery Bank to Your RV
Once the solar panels have been put up, you need to connect them to your battery as well as the RV itself. The wiring shouldn’t be exposed. It might get damaged if it is. Running it through a pipe can keep it safe from wear and tear. Just make sure that you seal whatever openings you make for the wire. Otherwise your RV would lose a lot of its insulation. Some people drill holes that directly lead from the panel to the RV’s switchboard. This is an effective solution but it’s a bit risky since it can damage the structural integrity of your RV.
Complete The Connection Between Panel, Inverter And Battery
You need to make sure that the connection forms a complete circuit. Monitoring polarity here is important since reverse polarity could send the charge back to the panel and overload it. Your solar inverter can be damaged by this as well. Make sure that you mark the wires too. You’ll need some kind of reference point if the panel doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. Solar panels might require a bit of trial and error to work. You should set aside a day during which you would conduct tests and see what problems are occurring so that you can fix them then and there.
Should You Get Solar Panels?
This is a question that can have many different kinds of answers. It really depends on your personal preferences, but the kind of RV that you have matters to. Perhaps the first question that you should ask is whether you can afford it. Solar panels offer big savings but they require a big investment as well. The savings will happen over the long term, and some people simply can’t part with this much money without throwing a wrench into their other budgets that might be equally as important.
Another thing to consider is whether or not your RV is big enough. Smaller RVs and travel trailers simply won’t be able to handle the weight or size of solar panels. So you should be careful about this sort of thing. You should also think about whether or not you even need a panel. Do you plan to use your AC regularly? If the answer is yes then you should probably get one. If not then you would probably end up doing fine without it. Either way it’s important to question your decision before you make it. Otherwise you might deal with buyer’s regret which is a really unfortunate situation for anyone to be in.
How can I calculate my solar energy requirements?
Start off by calculating how many watts of power your RV is going to need. Generally, RVs come with 30 amp plugs. These plugs have a limit of 3,600 watts that they can handle. That’s 3.6 kilowatts which is the number we are going to be using. 50 amp plugs are often available as well. These plugs can handle about 12,000 watts of power. Now all you need to do is divide the number of kilowatts that your RV plug can distribute by the number of watts in each panel. If you’re getting 200 watt solar panels, you would need 18 of them to provide maximum solar power capacity.
How many watts are needed to power an air conditioner?
The average RV comes with a 13,500 BTU air conditioner. These kinds of ACs require about 2,750 watts to start up. After which they need about 1,250 watts when they are fully operational. Hence, you need about 6 solar panels of 200 watts each to adequately power your RV. But you will need an extra 6 panels to generate enough power to allow your air conditioner to start in the first place. This number can go up and down based on the size of your AC. Generally speaking, though, 13,500 is a standard that you would see in most places.
What does BTUs mean?
This is a unit of measurement that’s used to measure heat and temperature. The full term is British Thermal Unit. It’s basically the level of thermal energy required to increase the temperature of a pound of pure water by one degree Fahrenheit. The height at which this measurement is made matters too. A BTU is only valid if the temperature change was measured at sea level. Otherwise changes in pressure could make the reading invalid. An air conditioner of 13,500 BTUs will basically be able to remove that many units of thermal energy from the air every hour.
Using solar panels is a great way to make yourself reliant on nothing but your wits. While there are some disadvantages to using them, for the most part they provide enough benefits to make them a worthwhile investment. Just remember to have them installed properly otherwise you won’t be able to use them the way that you had hoped. It might be a good idea to have a generator that you can use as a backup. That way you will have absolute confidence that you can keep your air conditioner running on a regular basis. The number of solar panels that you get might allow you to power other appliances. Do the calculations that we have provided above to figure out how many solar panels you would ideally end up needing to meet your total energy requirements.