Having a solar panel system on your RV is the ultimate way to stay off-grid while on the road, but how many panels do you need to run AC?

Whether you want to leave less of a carbon footprint or simply like the idea of being self-reliant while traveling, hooking up your RV with a solar panel system is incredibly practical. However, some common appliances and functions such as your RV’s AC unit consume an excessive amount of power, which is why you need to have the right amount of solar panels equipped to your rig for it to work.

To have a solar panel system that can run your RV AC, you will need to determine the wattage that your air conditioner unit needs. You should then buy enough solar panels to meet the specific energy needs of your unit. In addition, buy a 3,500 (min) watt inverter and a battery bank for 4 - 6 kWh.

RV travel is as popular as ever - with rental agencies and dealerships having record-breaking years in 2020 and 2021. A lot of folks prefer to travel by RV around the United States over any other means of transport, as it enables them to really soak in all of the scenery and landscapes of the country. As RV travel continues to stay very popular, a lot of new technology and innovation are being added to recreational vehicles. We have been seeing improvements done to RVs that make them more self-sufficient than they have ever been in the past - with solar panels being a key feature that a lot of travelers are implementing onto their vehicles. Solar panels are an incredible way to travel in your RV and stay completely off of the grid. They are environmentally friendly and they also enable you to live out of your RV without being dependent on the constant need for power hook-ups. However, you will find that solar panels do come with limitations, which is why you need to set up your system properly to have use of your AV. To help you understand this further, we are going to take a closer look at how many solar panels you need to run an RV AC.

After extensively researching RV AC units, I have been able to gather enough information to determine how much solar power you need to have full functionality from your vehicle’s air conditioner. My research has shown me that the amount of solar panels that you need to run is going to be dependent on the amount of power that your AC unit demands, as well as how long your want to be reliant on solar exclusively.



RV AC Solar Panel Requirements

If you ask around the RV community, you will find that a lot of people say that running your RV AC from solar energy is too much hassle - with some even claiming that it is impossible. It is true that having a solar panel system powerful enough to power your AC unit is going to be complicated and require a bit of work - but it is certainly doable!

A lot of folks out there who travel via RV have solar panels on their roofs. However, you will find that most of them have a pretty basic setup, which they use just to meet minimal energy needs so that they are not running their RV or using a generator. The reason for this is that appliances that need to generate hot or cold such as air conditioning and heating units require an immense amount of energy to function - much more than simple things like lights and even TVs. This can make having a solar panel system that powers your AC a bit tricky.

If you want to have a solar system for your RV that is capable of delivering this much power, you need to be calculated when approaching your setup. It is easy to underdo this by installing solar panels that are not going to give you the amount of power that you need, which can be frustrating after putting in all of the time, money, and effort to get things up and running.

To determine exactly how many solar panels you need to power your AC, you are first going to have to find out exactly how much power (watts) your specific RV AC unit needs. You will then need to consider how long you want your RV AC unit to be on (continuously or just a few hours to cool things down). With all of these factors in mind, you can find a good estimate for the kind of power that you will need to power your AC from solar panels. Keep reading to learn more about how many solar panels you need to run an RV AC.

RV AC Power Usage

Before you begin throwing solar panels on your roof and hoping for the best, it would be wise to figure out how much power your RV AC is going to use. There is no set standard in place for RV an air conditioner, as each vehicle may require a different amount of wattage depending on its size and class.

If you are driving a large RV such as a Fifth-Wheel or a Class A, you better expect your RV’s AC unit to drain a lot of power, which means that you are going to need a considerable amount of solar panels for your RV air conditioner to function.

However, if you have got a smaller recreational vehicle such as a Class B or Pop-Up trailer, you may be able to get away with a considerably smaller setup. Class Cs, on the other hand, are a bit of a tossup - as they can vary in size. Let’s break down the standard wattage/power usage of the modern air conditioners found in RVs.

  • 7,000 BTU AC - 2,500 watts
  • 10,000 BTU AC - 3,000 watts
  • 13,500 BTU AC - 4,500 watts
  • 15,000 BTU AC - 5,500 watts

When you are setting up a solar installation for your RV, you always want to have extra power to make things function. Having just the right amount is going to lead to complications such as constant outages. The reason for this is that you are likely going to be using additional devices and appliances when relying on your solar energy, which means that the second you plug in a phone to charge with a minimal system, your power will go out.

The above-mentioned figures are the minimum watts that you need to run most RV AC units - with an additional 500 watts added for power assurance. However, we would highly encourage that you have additional watts on top of these figures. How much more is going to be up to you, as you will need to consider what kind of additional appliances you want to have use of when relying on solar power.

Solar Configuration & Installation

Now that you know how many watts your RV AC unit needs to function, you can begin configuring your solar panel system. As you do so, you want to consider how much power you want to get out of your solar panels.

Some folks just want to have a solar installation that can power their AC unit for a few hours. Whereas others, want enough solar panels to be completely self-reliant and have their system power their AC exclusively.

Solar Panels

You also need to keep in mind that space is a critical factor when setting up solar panels on your RV roof. If you don’t have the space to have them mounted, then you may have trouble getting things to work, which is why you will want to take measurements of your roof based on the panels that you are considering.

There are a lot of great solar panels on the market for RVs that range in wattage as well as price. Most RVs that you see will generally have a 100-wat solar panel system - with some getting a little more juice than this. As we mentioned earlier, it's better to have too much than too little. You just want to measure the panel size carefully so that your solar panel installation fits.

If you are finding that space on your roof is an issue to fit all of your panels, you may want to try to utilize them in a more dynamic way such as by having them mounted on your roof and then having additional panels that you can connect outside of your vehicle when parked.

Inverter & Battery Bank

Regardless of the solar installation that you have on your roof, you are still going to need to have an inverter to get things working and a battery bank to sustain your solar energy.

We would recommend getting a battery bank that can store at least 4 - 6 kilowatt hours - if you want to have an optimum level of solar to power your AC. This should get you upwards of 12 hours of AC usage for average units that require 13,500 BTUs. If you have got a less power-demanding AC unit, you can probably get away with going smaller. However, if you have got a Fifth Wheel or a Class A RV, you may want even more battery power than this.

When picking out an inverter for your RV solar panels, you always want more than what you need. Don’t cut corners on this as it may leave you with constant power cuts. The size inverter that you get will be based on the amount of power that your AC unit needs.

For most smaller RVs, you should be fine if you get an inverter that can handle at least 2,500 to 3,000 watts. If you want to be on the safe side or if you have a larger vehicle, we would recommend getting something that can handle even more - with 3,500 to 4,000 being a reliable figure.

Generator Assisted Solar

The bottom line is that getting a solar setup for your RV can be quite tricky - especially if you want to run your AC from it. A lot of folks simply do not have the space to mount enough solar panels onto their RV for the job

This results in either a lack of power to get the AC to run from the solar panels or it means that you can only count on your solar for a couple of hours to cool down your rig. If you want to still use solar but can’t get it to work with your setup, you try using generator-assisted solar for your RV. This is a great way to gain a lot of the benefits of solar energy on your road trips - without the often overbearing hassle of setting up a fully loaded solar system.


Anthony Day

Anthony Day

Hi, my name is Anthony, and RVs are what I'm passionate about. I bought my first RV when I was 21, and I've been hooked ever since. I'll guide you on how they work, how they can be used in different environments, and how they fit into our everyday lives.

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