Before building your solar panel system, you need to estimate how many watt hours per day you will be using. First, make a list of all your electronics, and calculate the usage for each device. Record your answers in our solar calculator.
How do you calculate how many watt per hour something uses? Not every device lists this in the same way. Below are four examples of estimating power usage.
For AC powered devices: The most accurate way to do this is measure the device yourself. For all 110V AC household devices you can buy a Kill A Watt meter. Plug it in between your device and a wall. Then use your device like normal (laptop, induction burner, etc) for 24 hours. The Kill a Watt will keep track of the Wh used. It’s better to do this for more than one day to get accurate results.
DC Power Individual Device Calculation Examples
LED Light Strip (DC Power)
LED lights are relatively easy to calculate. When purchasing LEDs, the watts and volts are often written in the product description. In this example, we found a 16.4’ LED light strip on Amazon that will be run across the ceiling.
Based on the product description, you can see that this light strip uses 24W to power the entire strip. We use that and multiply it by how many hours a day we think the lights will be on.
24W * 3.5 hours = 84Wh per day
LED light strips can be cut to size. If you were only looking to use half the number of lights (8.2′ instead of 16.4′), then divide this number in half.
12 * 3.5 hours = 42Wh per day
LED Light Strip
Length: 5m, 16.4′
WeBoost Drive 4G-X Cell Signal Booster (DC Power)
WeBoost is a company that makes cell phone signal boosters. In this case, the website did not list the exact technical specifications. However, when opening the PDF spec sheet found on their website, we have a chart with the Amps and Volts listed next to ‘power’.
In this case, we need to get back to Watts, again using W = A * V
2.5A * 6V = 15W
Now you can multiply that by the estimated hours used.
15W * 5 hours = 75Wh per day
Model Number: 470510
Frequencies: Band 12/17 700MHz
Max Gain: 50dB
Connectors: SMA Female
Computer- 2017 Macbook Pro (AC Power)
The power consumption of a laptop can be tricky to estimate. This is because amount of power a computer uses when it’s on is not constant. Resource heavy games or programs will take more power than writing a paper in Microsoft word.
In addition, not all of manufacturers will list power consumption information. This is true in the case of my Macbook Pro. Apple.com doesn’t list any power information. Fortunately, they have to list the specs on the power supply to meet regulations.
Looking at the Apple laptop charger, you can see that the input is 100-240V / 1.5A and the output is 20.3V / 3A
This adapter is listing it’s maximum output potential. Computers aren’t usually drawing maximum power unless they are charging the battery along with running power hungry programs. Once your battery is charged, it will only be drawing a portion of the max output to keep the laptop running.
Using the specs on the computer we can estimate the maximum amount of power a 2017 Macbook Pro will use. We’ll say it’s running some intense programs and charging the battery 3 hours per day and unplugged, running the same programs, it’ll likely go another 4-6.
Using the highest rated spec:
20.3V * 3A = 61W
Now you do the same as before and multiply by the estimated hours
61W * 3 hours = 183Wh per day
Finally, because a computer is built to plug into a household wall outlet (AC power) an inverter will be necessary convert to DC power. You can roughly estimate the inverter efficiency at 10%. This leads to one more calculation:
183Wh * 1.1 inefficiency = 201Wh per day
Note: Most laptops will list the max power output on their power cord. This is true for both of our computers (Macbook and Lenovo Thinkpad). To get an even more accurate estimate of power usage, there are apps available for download that will show you how much power your computer is using at any given moment. On iOS you can download the battery health app.
Keep in mind, you’re numbers do not have to be exact. This exercise is just to give you a general idea of how much power you are using.
For any electronic, an inexpensive Kill-a-Watt meter can be purchased on Amazon to give you an accurate reading.
NorCold NRF Portable Refrigerator (DC Power)
Portable refrigerator consumption can also be tricky to calculate because they do not use power 100% of the time. At first glance, you might mistake the power specs as what it takes to run a refrigerator 24/7. However, refrigerators use a compressor to cool the compartment down periodically. Once the fridge has cooled below a certain level, the compressor will turn off and remain that way until the inside gets above a set temperature again.
In extremely hot environments, a fridge compressor could be running above 50% of the hour. In the winter, it will be running significantly less. Each refrigerator is going to be very different in how frequently it runs. Some brands have general specs listed on their websites to help find this information.
Efficiency is going to be different for the summer and winter. Based off the tech specs we can see that the refrigerator is drawing 4.8 Amps of power at 12V.
Using the highest rated spec:
4.8A * 12V = 57.6W
Now take that number an estimate 8 hours of run-time in a 24 hour period for a warm enviornment
60W * 8 hours = 480Wh per day
Norcold NRF 45
Dimensions: 16 x 25.5 x 15.75″
Cubic Feet: 1.6
Amp Draw 12V/DC: 4.8
Amp Draw 24V/DC: 2.4
Amp Draw 120V/AC: 0.5
This diverse set of electronics should give you a good enough idea to measure all devices on your own. Then you should have everything you need to head over to our solar system calculator and measure the size of your full solar panel system! Then head over to our RV solar wiring diagrams to see it all come together.