How To Power a Portable Air Conditioner: The Complete Guide

How To Power a Portable Air Conditioner

Small air conditioners are a great way to enjoy outdoor adventures when the temps rise. But they can also come with a lot of questions, including their electrical needs. Knowing how to power a portable air conditioner is crucial.

In this article, we’ll walk through how many watts a portable AC uses, plus the best ways to cover those electrical needs through portable solutions, such as power stations, solar panels, batteries, and generators.

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Bluetti AC180 Solar GeneratorBest for Small Camping Air Conditioners
EcoFlow Delta ProBest for Large Portable Air Conditioners
Champion Power Equipment Inverter GeneratorBest Budget Option
Ultimate Guide to Campervan Electrics: Build Your Powerhouse

Quick Answer: Powering a Portable AC

To power a small camping air conditioner (<500W or <5,000BTU), a mid-range solar generator with around 1,00Wh battery capacity and at least 200W of solar is perfect. Out top choice is the Bluetti AC200 Solar Generator + 2x200W Solar Panel. It’s a great device made by an industry leader.

If you have a larger portable air conditioner (~1,500W or >10,000BTU), you’ll need a larger solar generator with at least 3,000Wh battery and around 1,000W of solar panels.

The EcoFlow Delta Pro has over 3,000Wh of battery and can handle a whole lot of solar (1,600W). This device can solve your portable power needs for an air conditioner while also serving as an excellent home battery backup. And you can add on more Delta Pro Expansion Batteries to boost capacity through the roof.

If you need a lower-cost option or are concerned about solar power, you can also use a fuel generator to quickly recharge the Bluetti or EcoFlow solar generator. Or to power the air conditioner by itself.

Once you know have that power station, you can add a camping fridge to never worry about ice again.

Bluetti 2000Wh power station

Powering Portable Air Conditioners: The Details You Need to Know

Many of the top camping air conditioners like the Zero Breeze Mark 2, EcoFlow Wave 2, and BougeRV Portable AC, draw about 500W or less of energy. This means that if they’re running full-blast, they’ll use about 500Wh of battery in one hour. That’s how much energy you need to create to use this air conditioner away from an outlet.

Other portable air conditioners, like the Black and Decker 14,000BTU AC, use closer to 1,500W. So that will burn through 1,500Wh of energy in an hour, if the compressor was running 100% of the time. It’s a much larger amount of energy, but still very possible to run.

Note: Air conditioner compressors do not run 100% of the time they are on. They cycle on and off to provide cooling based on your set temperature, the ambient temperature, and other factors.

There are three main choices for powering either class of portable air conditioner:

  1. Stay at campgrounds with electrical outlets
  2. Buy an air conditioner with a built-in battery
  3. Use a portable power station with a solar panel (aka a solar generator)

Staying near an electrical outlet is by far the easiest and cheapest. But it lacks the adventure aspect that many of us want.

The Zero Breeze Mark 2 and the EcoFlow Wave 2 are two amazing portable air conditioners. And both have available battery packs. If you buy that package, you have many hours of cold air no matter where you are.

The downside is that you can’t use the battery packs for much else. And they don’t last all day. So you still want a way to recharge the battery packs away from an electrical outlet. You also won’t find larger air conditioners with a battery.

And that’s where the solar generators shine. Solar generators are portable power stations with solar panels. You can create, store, and use a lot of power no matter where you go. This is the best way to power a portable air conditioner.

You can think of solar generators as portable batteries that are easy to use and recharge. While they are great with solar panels, you can also recharge them with fuel generators, regular household outlets, even campground high-amp outlets. They’ll power your air conditioner and all sorts of other devices. You can also use them as a backup home power system.

Massive 3600Wh ECOFLOW portable power station

Shopping for a Solar Generator to Power Your AC

The most important aspects of any solar generator are:

  1. The battery capacity (Wh)
  2. The inverter capability (W)
  3. The charging input (W)

The battery capacity determines how long the solar generator will power your devices. If we use a 500W air conditioner (like the EcoFlow Wave 2), that uses up to 500Wh per hour. So to run it for four hours without any charging, you want at least a 2,000Wh battery. If you’re using a larger portable air conditioner, you may want an even bigger battery.

The inverter capability is how much power the solar generator can send through it’s 110V/120V AC outlet. For many portable power stations, this isn’t much of an issue. The AC inverters are usually 2,000W or higher, while the small air conditioners only use 500W. If you are running a 1,500W air conditioner, you will likely find solar generators with 3,000W inverters. Both are well within the solar generator’s ability.

Finally, the charging input. This is crucial. You want to be able to replace the energy the air conditioner uses as quickly as possible. This can be solar panels, fuel generator, or an electrical outlet. The larger the wattage of the charging input, the quicker the solar generator can absorb the energy.

For solar panels, the more panels you have (measured in watts), the more energy can go to your solar generator and your air conditioner. For example, if you want to run that same 500W air conditioner, you can do so indefinitely if you get about 600W of solar panels and have bright sunlight to work with. There is about 20% loss, which is why we need 600W of solar and not 500W.

If you find solar panels are too expensive, you can pair a solar generator with a fuel generator. Why would you do that? Because you can turn the fuel generator on in short bursts to recharge the solar generator’s battery. Then turn OFF the fuel generator, and let the solar generator power your air conditioner. You don’t have to listed to the annoying engine humming away.

The best advice is the get the largest solar generator that fits your budget. If you get one with at least 2,000Wh battery, 2,000W inverter, and over 500W solar input, you’ll be in good shape to run a small camping air conditioner away from electrical outlets. To run a larger portable air conditioner, you should be looking at at least 3,000Wh battery, 3,000W inverter, and 1,500W solar input.

Up next, we’ll go over the best portable power stations and solar generators. First for small camping air conditioners. Then for larger portable air conditioners.

The Best Camping Air Conditioners

Best Portable Power Stations for Small Air Conditioners

Now let’s look at the best portable power stations. There are a lot of brands out there today, but we’ve separated the best from the rest so you can choose confidently. This is a big investment and you don’t want to go with the wrong options here.

EcoFlow, Bluetti, and Anker are three of the best solar generator companies around today because they:

  • Stick to industry-leading battery chemistry and engineering practices
  • Create high-quality products that will stand the test of time
  • Have excellent customer service with superior warranty coverage

For powering a portable air conditioner, the top choice is the Bluetti AC200 Solar Generator + 2x200W Solar Panel. It will give you many hours of cooling power with a good amount of solar to keep it topped off. And if you want to add more solar, you can easily do so.

But that’s not the only option. Here is our carefully curated selection of the best portable power stations to power small camping air conditioners:

Best OverallBLUETTI AC200 +2x200W Solar2,000Wh battery with 400W solar panels
Best AlternativeAnker SOLIX F2000 + 2x200W Solar2,000Wh battery with 400W solar panels
Best BudgetECOFLOW Delta 2 + 220W Solar1,000Wh battery with 220W solar panel
Black+Decker Portable Air Conditioner with remote

Best Solar Generators for Large Portable Air Conditioners

Bluetti, EcoFlow, and Anker are the brands to stick with for powering large portable air conditioners too. They all have products that go all the way up to serious home backup power.

These are expensive. And that’s the price to pay to get a lot of cold air anywhere.

If you don’t want to spend this cash, you can (1) use the air conditioner near electrical outlets, (2) go with a smaller portable air conditioner, or (3) use a fuel generator to power your air conditioner or to recharge a smaller solar generator.

The best choice for a large solar generator to power your portable air conditioner is the EcoFlow Delta Pro. It has 3,600Wh battery and can handle up to 1,600W of solar. You can also add on external battery banks to provide even more capacity.

Here is the full list of the best portable power stations to power large portable camping air conditioners:

Best OverallECOFLOW Delta Pro3,600Wh battery with expansion up to 25,000Wh with extra units
Best AlternativeBluetti AC5003,072Wh battery with expansion up to 36,900Wh with extra units
Best BudgetAnker SOLIX F26002,560Wh battery with up to 4,608Wh with one extra unit
Elecaenta solar panel

More Solar Panels for More Power

The BLUETTI Solar Generator AC200 + 2x200W Solar Panels is one of the best deals around. But you can also buy just the power station and use other solar panels. It might save some cash and allow you to get more solar, which means more air conditioner power.

First, let’s look at more 200W solar panels. These are a good size and many of these panels have the best bang-for-your-buck with excellent price per watt:

Best Overall220W DOKIO 18V Portable Solar Panel High customer satisfaction, excellent price point, 1-year warranty and lifetime customer support
Most Efficient200W GRECELL Portable Solar PanelSuperior conversion rate, portable and thin, comes with many adapters
Ultra Light200W ELECAENTA Portable Solar PanelExtremely lightweight and flexible, IP54 waterproof, high conversion rate

But if you want more power, a large solar panel can be much easier to deal with. Here are our recommendations for high-wattage portable solar panels:

Best OverallELECAENTA 300W Portable Solar PanelUltra-light thin design, IP54 waterproof, high conversion rate
Best BudgetDOKIO 300w 18v Portable Foldable Solar PanelIncredible price, plenty of adapters, folding design
Best High Watt PremiumEF ECOFLOW 400W Portable Solar PanelHigh-performance panels, lightweight and portable, IP68 waterproof
A iPower generators are taking the market by storm with plenty of great reviews

Fuel Generator: Cheap Way to Power an Air Conditioner

Fuel-based generators can handle a high-watt device with just a bit of good ole dinosaur juice, gasoline or diesel. They’re a reliable and affordable way to power an air conditioner.

And thankfully, many of the newer models are much quieter than the ones from before.

This carefully selected list includes three of the best options on the market, using the best technology to provide as quiet, clean, and versatile of a generator as possible. They’re also from reputable brands that stand behind what they sell.

Here are our top recommendations for generators for air conditioners:

Best OverallChampion Power Equipment 2000W Inverter GeneratorLow 53 dB noise, 39 pounds, 3-year warranty, available in dual-fuel model, up to 11 hour runtime
Best AlternativeWEN 56203i Super Quiet 2000W Inverter GeneratorAmazing price level, built-in fuel shutoff, compact and lightweight at 39 pounds
Best High WattA-iPower 4300W Inverter Generator Very high power unit but still under 63 dB noise, CO sensor included, 7.5 hour runtime

Details About Powering Portable Devices & Air Conditioners

We’ve now reviewed the best solutions for powering your AC units anywhere and everywhere. Now let’s take a moment to fill in the details so you can be sure your choice is the right one for your needs.

Watt Hours: Battery Power Available for Consumption

Batteries store energy, and one way to measure that stored energy is watt hours (Wh). They’re also often measured in amp hours, but that changes based on the voltage of the system (12V/24V/36V). Plus, an air conditioner’s energy consumption rate in watts so it’s easy to go from watt-hours to watts. 

To determine your energy needs, compare the wattage of a portable air conditioner with the watt-hours of the battery storage.

Can you guess how many watt hours a 250W device uses in 1 hour? 250W times 1 hour equals 250Wh. To run it for two hours, it would be 500Wh (250W x 2 hours =  500Wh).

In the real world, there are some other factors that impact how much electricity devices will use:

  1. Portable air conditioners don’t run non-stop at 100% power
  2. Some of the power transferred from the battery to the actual device will be lost to system inefficiencies
  3. Solar panels usually create about 80% of their rating in ideal peak sunlight

With those things in mind, it’s a good idea to buy a larger battery or electrical system that you think. Although your compressor won’t always be running, you don’t want the inefficiencies surprising you and running low of battery while you’re trying to stay cool on a hot day.

Zero Breeze Mark 2 portable camping air conditoner

Zero Breeze Mark 2 Power: Watts, Watt Hours, and Battery Life

Let’s look at one example. The Mark 2 Air Conditioner is rated at 240W and can come with a battery that has 840Wh of battery storage.

If we say it’s used at 100% of the 240W power, that means it would use 240Wh of the battery each hour. Theoretically, this means that the 840Wh battery would last 3.5 hours (840Wh divided by 240W = 3.5 hours).

But Zero Breeze says that each battery actually provides up to 6 hours of power.

It’s because it won’t be running at 100% power the entire time. The unit won’t even let you do that because it would put too much stress on the system and burn it out.

Zero Breeze assumes it only uses about 140W on average (140W times 6 hours = 840Wh). That’s less than 60% of the Mark 2’s maximum wattage of 240W.

Calculating Portable AC Watt Usage

To find the watts your AC will use, start by finding the watt rating of your device, then multiply it by the expected usage in a percentage.

Hot areas push your air conditioner power use high, which could be around 80% of the maximum wattage. If you only need about 5 degrees temperature cooling, you can probably drop that down to 40%.

Quick summary for load percentages based on environments:

  • 80% of wattage for incredibly hot areas
  • 60% for most uses that might need 10-15 degrees temperature change
  • 40% for areas that only need a slight boost

For example, if you get a 500W unit and will be in a hot area, you’ll probably use 80% or 400W on average. Bring that same 500W unit to a more comfortable setting, you’re probably looking at 40% or 200W.

Battle Born lithium batteries are some of the best on the market

How Much Battery Storage Do You Need?

Now let’s get a rough idea of how much battery power you need to power a portable air conditioner. For right now, we’ll assume you are NOT recharging the battery at all.

Take the wattage rating of the device, multiplied by the estimated percentage load, times the number of hours. The result is the watt-hour of battery used.

W x % x hours = Wh

Here are some example calculation for different wattage ratings, all for 8 hours of runtime:

  • 100W device times 60% = 60W actual use, times 8 hours = 300Wh battery
  • 250W device times 60% = 150W actual use, times 8 hours = 750Wh battery
  • 1,500W device times 60% = 900W actual use, times 8 hours = 4,500Wh battery

As you can see, the battery you need depends heavily on the wattage of the device.

Solar panels are a great way to leave campgrounds behind while stil staying powered up

Solar Panel Charging for More Watt Hours

Solar panels are rated in watts. But that rating isn’t actually what you get in real life. Other factors include:

  • Angle of the sun
  • Hours of sunshine
  • Obstructions such as clouds or trees
  • System inefficiencies or heat production

You can expect to get ~80% of a solar panel’s rating during this ideal situation. A 200W solar panel array actually generates 160Wh each hour of peak sunlight.

These ideal conditions are hard to get. If you are in sunny southern states, it might be as high as 6-7 hours of peak sunlight. Northern or cloudy states will drop to ~3 hours. 4 hours of peak sunlight per day is a relatively common estimate to work with.

Estimated Solar Panel Watt Hour and Amp Hour Charging Capabilities

Here are some estimates for how many watt hours you’ll charge with certain solar arrays:

  • 100W solar times 80% is 80Wh per hour. Take that 80Wh times 4 hours equals 320Wh charging per day. 
  • 200W solar times 80% is 160Wh per hour, times 4 hours equals 640Wh charging per day
  • 400W solar times 80% is 320Wh per hour, times 4 hours equals 1,280Wh charging per day

It’s worth noting that you’ll also need to verify the solar charger’s capabilities. Small power stations are often limited to about 100W, medium ones can usually handle 200W-400W, and robust systems might be able to go higher if equipped with a more robust charger.

ECOFLOW Wave 2 Camping Potable AC Unit

Powering Portable Air Conditioners: Wrap-Up

Using a portable air conditioner away from a household outlet might seem like a challenge, but there are some great solutions today. A solar generator with at least 2,000Wh battery is good for smaller air conditioners, while a larger unit may need to go with a 3,000Wh solar generator and more solar panels. Your other options are to stay at a campground with outlets or get a fuel generator.

Now all you need is a camping tent with AC ports to boost your comfort.

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