Running an air conditioner on a hot day can be expensive when relying on standard grid-available electricity. With portable solar panels gaining popularity, the idea of using one or a couple to run the AC is increasingly appealing to homeowners looking to lower their electricity bills. But can a portable solar panel generate enough power to keep an air conditioner running?
A portable solar panel can run an air conditioner, provided that the solar panel’s power output equals or exceeds the air conditioner’s power consumption. Portable solar panels equipped with power banks (or connected to batteries) are best suited to running an AC unit.
Read on to discover how to determine how much solar power you’ll need to run an air conditioner, as well as the factors that can impact a portable solar panel’s ability to power an AC unit.
How Many Portable Solar Panels Do You Need To Run an AC?
The number of portable solar panels you need to run an AC varies depending on each panel’s power output and the air conditioner’s power consumption. Every AC has an average power consumption range that you can use to figure out how many panels you’ll need.
Determining your AC’s average power consumption rate is the most effective way to determine how many portable solar panels you’ll need to keep it running. If you can’t find your unit’s power consumption rate, you can make an educated estimation based on your air conditioner’s type.
There are several types of AC units available, with the most common being:
- Portable units.
- Window units.
- Ductless or mini-split systems.
- Central air conditioning.
Each of these types has an average per-hour watt consumption rating. You can use these ratings to determine how many solar panels (of each wattage) you’ll need to power your AC.
Portable AC Units: Average Power Consumption
Although portable air conditioners are some of the smallest AC units available, they can consume more electricity than similarly-sized window and ductless AC systems.
The average portable AC consumes between 2,900 and 4,100 watts per hour. For perspective, that’s up to eight times more energy than the average small-sized window unit consumes per hour.
Window AC Units: Average Power Consumption
A small window AC unit can consume as little as 500 watts per hour, but larger models might require up to 1,440 watts per hour to continue running.
Still, these units have the lowest average power consumption of any other air conditioner, making them a go-to choice for those hoping to run an AC unit using portable solar panels.
Ductless or Mini-Split AC Systems: Average Power Consumption
Ductless mini-split AC systems tend to cool a single room or area at a time. For this reason, they’re considered more energy-efficient than central air conditioning systems and large portable air conditioners.
Still, the average power consumption of a ductless or mini-split AC system is higher than that of most window units. You can expect this type of AC system to consume between 700 and 2,000 watts per hour.
Central Air Conditioning: Average Power Consumption
Undoubtedly, central air conditioning is the least energy-efficient type of AC system, with the only exception being large portable air conditioners.
The average energy consumption for central AC units is 3,500 watts per hour, though larger homes might find that their units consume more energy to keep interior spaces cool.
Running an Air Conditioner Using Portable Solar Panels: Comparison Chart
Now that we have energy consumption averages for the different types of AC units and systems, we can estimate how many portable solar panels it would take to run them.
We’ll use the most common power output levels (in watts) found in portable solar panels. For example, most portable solar panels have an energy output between 60W and 400W.
Some pocket-sized options have much lower outputs of between 6W and 10W. You’d need dozens of these small-scale panels to power an AC unit, so they’re an impractical option that we won’t include in our calculations.
Here’s a table showing approximately how many portable solar panels (for each wattage) you’d need to run the various types of air conditioners.
|Portable AC Unit||Window AC Unit||Ductless or Mini-Split AC||Central AC|
|60W||48 to 70 solar panels||9 to 24 solar panels||12 to 34 solar panels||60 solar panels|
|100W||29 to 41 solar panels||5 to 15 solar panels||7 to 20 solar panels||35 solar panels|
|140W||21 to 30 solar panels||4 to 11 solar panels||5 to 15 solar panels||25 solar panels|
|160W||19 to 26 solar panels||4 to 9 solar panels||5 to 13 solar panels||22 solar panels|
|200W||15 to 21 solar panels||3 to 8 solar panels||4 to 10 solar panels||18 solar panels|
|220W||14 to 19 solar panels||3 to 7 solar panels||4 to 10 solar panels||16 solar panels|
|300W||10 to 14 solar panels||2 to 5 solar panels||3 to 7 solar panels||12 solar panels|
|350W||9 to 12 solar panels||2 to 5 solar panels||2 to 6 solar panels||10 solar panels|
|400W||8 to 11 solar panels||2 to 4 solar panels||2 to 5 solar panels||9 solar panels|
As you can see, the most efficient and effective way to run an air conditioner using portable solar panels would be to pair high-wattage portable solar panels (400W or more) with a low-consumption, small-sized window unit.
Determining How Much Power Your AC Unit Consumes
If you’re using a portable air conditioner or window AC unit, you can determine how much energy your unit consumes by attaching a power meter.
The kuman KW47-US Electricity Usage Monitor (available on Amazon.com) is handy for checking air conditioner power consumption. It features several display modes, including timed watt and kWh (kilowatt hour) displays.
These allow you to determine precisely how much energy your window or portable AC unit consumes each hour, helping you select the right number (and wattage) of portable solar panels to power those units.
But if you’re using a ductless mini-split or central air conditioning unit, determining how much power these systems consume can be challenging.
These units work best with stationary solar panels, and their average power consumption makes it unlikely that you can keep them operating with portable panels. Therefore, it’s best to avoid powering them with portable solar panels.
Figuring Out How Much Power Your Portable Solar Panels Produce
Knowing how many watts your portable solar panels produce is a straightforward process.
The listed watt rating of each panel represents the maximum energy output for each hour of direct sunlight. So, if you’re using 100W solar panels, you can expect a maximum of 100-watt output per hour.
Of course, several factors can impact a solar panel’s ability to reach maximum energy output levels. Understanding these factors is crucial to ensuring your panels produce enough power to keep an AC unit running.
Factors Impacting Portable Solar Panel Power Output
Even the most powerful portable solar panels can struggle to reach maximum energy output, especially when the weather is cloudy, or the panels are covered in dirt or dust.
To ensure you’re getting the most out of your portable solar panels, you’ll want to consider:
- Current weather conditions.
- Panel cleanliness.
- Physical obstacles.
- Solar panel size.
Let’s quickly touch on each of these factors and discuss how they impact a solar panel’s efficiency.
Weather Impacts Solar Panel Power Output
Solar panels are so-called because they absorb energy from the sun and convert it into usable electricity. But when sunlight is scarce, these panels can’t produce much (if any) power.
Suppose you’d like to run an air conditioner on solar power, but the weather outside is cloudy or rainy (or it’s nighttime). In that case, it’s best to rely on the solar energy stored in batteries, power banks, or solar generators.
In fact, you’ll need these supplementary energy storage devices if you intend to run an air conditioner indefinitely using portable solar panels, as solar panels won’t generate any energy during the evening due to a lack of sunlight.
Clean Solar Panels Produce More Energy
Solar panels (portable and stationary) rely on their gleaming solar cell surfaces to absorb energy from sunlight. So, their efficiency significantly declines when these surfaces are covered in a fine layer of dust or dirt.
That’s why you must clean your portable solar panels every week (or at least every month). It’s one of the best things you can do to keep them producing the maximum possible amount of energy.
You can wipe your panels down using a soft microfiber cloth. A small spritz of plain water is typically all you need to remove dirt. Never use cleaning chemicals to clean solar panels, as these are often caustic and can damage solar cells.
Use a squeegee or clean microfiber cloth to remove any remaining liquid and leave the surface streak-free.
Physical Obstacles Can Decrease Power Output
Where you place your portable solar panels can significantly impact how much energy they produce.
Physical obstacles, such as tree limbs or shadows from nearby buildings, can make it harder for panels to absorb direct sunlight, thus decreasing their power output. That’s why experts (and probably your solar panel’s user manual) recommend placing your portable solar panels in areas that are fully lit and free of any shadow-casting obstacles.
Solar Panel Size Affects Power Output
Those looking to use fewer solar panels to run an AC unit should invest in larger solar panels. Larger panels feature more solar cells, and the more solar cells you have available to catch the sunlight, the greater your potential energy output is likely to be.
It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t always the case. Some expansive multi-panel portable solar power systems produce less energy than smaller-sized ones. Therefore, it’s also vital to consider your chosen panel’s listed watt output.
Running an AC Unit Using Portable Solar Panels: Helpful Tips
Running an air conditioner using portable solar panels can be tricky. For the best possible results, you’ll want to:
- Always overestimate your power consumption.
- Invest in high-wattage portable solar panels.
- Choose energy-efficient air conditioners.
- Connect solar panels to power banks or batteries.
Let’s take a closer look at these tips.
Always Overestimate Your Power Consumption
When using portable solar panels to power an air conditioner, it’s best to overestimate its power consumption than underestimate it.
So, let’s say you have a small window AC unit that consumes about 500W per hour. Technically, you’d need about 3.1 160W solar panels to run this unit.
But while you might be tempted to try and power the air conditioner with only three panels, that pesky 0.1 left behind can cause problems. Using four 160W solar panels would be the best option in this case.
When in doubt, always add at least one portable solar panel. At worst, you’ll generate excess energy that doesn’t get used, which isn’t the worst trade-off for ensuring you have plenty of stored solar power to keep your AC running through the night.
Invest in High-Wattage Portable Solar Panels
Portable solar panels with wattage ratings of 300W or higher are the best choices when powering air conditioners.
These panels produce more energy, thus reducing the number of panels you need to keep your AC unit functioning. Using energy-efficient air conditioners with comparatively low power consumption rates is also an excellent idea.
Choose Energy-Efficient Air Conditioners
Investing in an energy-efficient air conditioner can help you enjoy solar-powered AC with fewer portable solar panels.
The most energy-efficient options are typically small window units (look for ENERGY STAR-certified models). However, some low-BTU portable AC units are almost equally energy-efficient.
Connect Solar Panels To Power Banks or Batteries
Portable solar panels can sometimes absorb more energy than you need to run an air conditioner, especially when using high-wattage panels and an energy-efficient AC unit. If you’re not storing this excess energy, your air conditioner won’t be able to run on solar power during cloudy weather, rain, or the dark evening hours.
Connecting your portable solar panels to batteries or power banks is a fantastic way to ensure the excess energy they produce during the sunny daytime doesn’t go to waste. It’s also a great way to keep your AC running at night or on cloudy days.
It’s possible to use a portable solar panel to power an air conditioner. However, you’ll need a high-wattage panel, an energy-efficient AC unit, and a power bank or battery to generate the best results.
Keeping your portable solar panel clean, in direct sunlight, and away from obstacles (like tree branches) is a fantastic way to increase the panel’s power output.
Of course, there are only so many hours of sunlight in a day, so storing excess power in a battery or power bank is the only way to ensure that your AC unit remains powered on after dark.
- IT Landes: How Many Watts Does an Air Conditioner Use?
- Bardi Heating, Cooling & Plumbing: How Many Watts Does an Air Conditioner Use?
- Real Time Bros Heating & Air Conditioning: How Many Watts Does an Air Conditioner Use?
- Mighty Duct Heating & Cooling: How Many Watts Does an Air Conditioner Use?
- Amazon: kuman KW47-US Electricity Usage Monitor
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