How Much Solar Power Do I Need In My Rv
Today the solar power revolution has emerged at the consumer level. Its become increasingly popular with campers, and especially RV travelers.
Not only is it Green but modern solar panels are also efficient enough to reduce or sometimes eliminate an RVs need for a traditional gasoline or diesel-powered generator.
This might leave you wondering, just how much solar power do I need to power my RV?
An average travel trailer need 120 Amp Hours of solar power, whereas a luxury fifth wheel or Class A motorhome might need 240 to 360 Amp Hours of solar power to truly maintain its arsenal of appliances and creature comforts. So, this wide range will influence just how long it takes for you to see a full return on your initial investment.
To truly find out just how much solar power your RV needs, were going to need to take a closer look at how solar power works, How much power do you need?
How many panels, and what size? how to store the energy it creates, and how to accurately determine your wattage needs.
How Much Solar Do I Need For My Rv
Why Solar is Important
We all know it is a ongoing battle to keep our RV batteries charged with the constant drain of .5-2A draw of RVs. This will equate to 12-48AH of battery consumption each day just to keep the lights off! When you have Lead Acid batteries this is compounded by sulfating and reduced capacity. A good Solar Charge Controller has the ability to fully charge your battery with the correct voltage for the current temperature, your RV converter can not do this. How do I charge my RV batteries?
How much Solar do I need for my RV?
200 watts of solar is the bare minimum to keep a battery bank topped off, and thats while your RV is not in use. But if youre using your RV, you will need more.
I install a 700 watt solar package for toy haulers with great results. This seems to be the sweet spot for many RVers with small inverter use.
- Red is better for Solar Yield
A 100 watt solar panel sitting flat on the roof will yield about 30AH of 12v battery charging, this equates to 360Wh. If you look at the back of your TV and it uses 36watts, you can run this for 10 hours with a 100 watt solar panel. If your residential fridge uses 6A at 120v it will consume 720 watts when running. If it runs for 1/4 of the day it will consume 4,320Wh or 360AH requiring 1000 watts of solar panels.
Roof Panels vs Portable Panels
- Flat Solar Panel
- Tracked Solar Panel
Efficient Generator Charging
Full Time Boondockers
Variables In The Amount Of Energy Captured:
When you are sizing your solar panel they will be rated in watts. That rating is the peak energy you can expect to get from them on a perfectly clear day with the sun directly overhead and the suns rays hitting perpendicular to the unobstructed panel surface. Theres a lot to digest and all of those things will affect the amount of power the panel actually produces.
To simplify it, lets just call it solar intensity. Solar intensity will rarely be the 100% the panel is rated at. The solar intensity on a clear day in Alaska in January will be much less than a clear day in Key West in July. Other things that lower the solar intensity are shade from trees, clouds, haze, dust, dirt, and those pesky Mud Daubers that decided to build a nest on your panel.
The NREL generates maps that show solar intensity across the US. These are a great resource for determining how much solar power your panels are likely to generate at any given time of the year at any specific location. For the purposes of sizing your system, youll want to find the low point in the location where you camp and size based on that.
Don’t Miss: Are Solar Panels Harmful To Your Health
How Much Power Do You Need
If you are in the planning phase and dont have the RV ready, you can create an appliance list to determine how much power you will need once you hit the road.
I made a simple table you can use to collect the data you need to answer this question. The table is already populated with basic appliances an average RV will need to go offline for a month or so. You can version of the table. It has the formulas needed to handle the calculations and give you estimates off the bat.
- The above are just estimations, you can read actual values from the product sticker on your appliances
- If an appliance has Amps rating and no wattage, you can get the watts by using this formula: Watts= Amps x Voltage
From the above data, my virtual RV will need 861 watts a day. This is the available power the camper needs. The figure doesnt factor in power losses encountered during storage, conversion, and transmission of the power.
Pro Tip: If you already have the RV, get a power meter and log the total power you use in a day for a week or two. This will give you a more accurate figure of the overall electricity you need to go offgrid.
Why Didnt You List All Of The Components I Need Wires Fuses Ect
Your wire size is going to vary greatly depending on how far you are running them. Read our wiring guide for more details on how to size your specific system. It is difficult to predict how much wiring each different van build will have and the lengths needed, and we dont want to have you ordering things that you dont need.
Recommended Reading: Are There Solar Powered Generators
Windynation 100 Watt Solar Panel Off
Price: $439.99 Buy Now
Best: Runner up
The fact that WindyNation gives RV owners the option to purchase a battery with their solar kit is a huge plus! Image source:
WindyNation offers a 100 watt, 12 Volt solar panel kit that is great for boondockers who dont use a lot of power. The kit includes one panel with a power output of 100 watts, a 20 amp PWM charge controller, four Z-brackets for mounting, cabling, and solar connectors. It also includes a 100 Amp-hour absorbed glass matt lead-acid battery.
According to WindyNation, this panel will produce 350 watt-hours of electricity per day. That isnt a lot, but the charge controller included is able to handle up to four 100 watt panels, so you can expand the system in the future. This kits great online reviews and included equipment are what make it our best overall runner up RV solar kit.
- Comes with a lead acid battery
- Cabling and mounting equipment included
- Charge controller allows for future system expansion
- High user reviews on Amazon
- Only one panel, so it wont cover all of your electricity usage right off the bat
- Inverter not included
Price: $499.68 Buy Now
Best: Portable RV solar setup
Go Power!s kit may not have the ability to mount to your roof, but its perfect for those just looking for portable solar power. Image source:
Price: $230.35 Buy Now
Best: Flexible solar panel for RV
Renogys 100 W flexible solar panel makes it easier to add a few solar panels to your roof. Image source:
Things To Consider With Roof Mounted Panels
There are lots of solar panel options on the market. The traditional roof-mounted option sounds decent because its simple to install, and youve instantly got solar power, right? Wrong.
There are a few things to consider when it comes to roof-mounted solar panels for your RV:
The panels arent very efficient if you dont aim them. You have to tilt them for full sun exposure and maximum effect, so youll either have to climb on the roof and tilt them by hand, or pay for an option to automate the process. By contrast, mobile options that you set up on the ground are easily tilted by hand.
You also have to move the RV itself to optimize the panels in relation to what direction the sun is shining. That can be a pain in any rig, which is particularly true if you have a Class A, travel trailer, or fifth wheel. You can move mobile panels by hand.
Another thing that can hamper roof-mounted solar panels is forgetting to clean them. To reach maximum efficiency, you must clean your solar panels regularly. Again, youll have to climb on the roof to accomplish this task. Or you can go the mobile route, where you can clean them while safely standing on the ground.
You dont have to avoid roof-mounted solar panels when considering solar power options for your RV, but you need to know the risks and rewards of both options.
Also Check: How To Fund A Solo 401k
How Long Can We Run On Solar
How long we can run our battery on solar power is a tricky question. In perfect, sunny, conditions and with good conservation practices, we can run nearly indefinitely. Although conservation can sometimes be a bummer, when we are in a conservation scenario we are only using our major appliances as a convenience. If we are trying to stay boondocking as long as possible, it may look like this:
- 12-volt air vents running all day
- Make coffee in the morning with breakfast. No TV, no microwave, etc.
- Go out and hike and turn off all electrical systems to ensure a full battery charge for later
- At lunch, use the microwave, run the TV for a half- hour or so
- At dinner, use the appliances as needed
- After the sun sets, watch a movie on TV but keep a close eye on the battery charge
We generally dont worry about conservation if we are just staying the night in a parking lot somewhere while heading to a Good Sam Resort where we know we have full hookups in our future. It is great fun to run the margarita machine, entertainment system and microwave without a care. However, in this mode, even with 300 amp-hour battery bank, we deplete the batteries significantly in just a few hours.
All the comforts of home while boondocking at Rincon Beach, California. Photo: Sam Elliott
I Have More Than 25 Devices What Shall I Do
If you have more than 25 devices to list follow these steps:
Don’t Miss: How To Feed Solid Food To Baby
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need For Boondocking
With respect to your batteries
- If you have a single 12 volt battery, at about 100 AH, you should have 300 watts of solar panels, minimum.
- With two 12 volt batteries, or two 6 golf cart volt batteries, with between 200-250 AH, you should have 400 watts of solar panels, minimum.
- If you have four 12 volt batteries, or four 6 volt golf cart batteries, with between 400-600 AH, you should have 600 watts of solar panels, minimum.
These recommendations are based on the metric that you can produce 30 AH of battery charge using a 100 watt solar panel, between 5-9 hours of sun exposure. The typical solar panel found on most RVs range from 150 watts to 200 watts.
Find A Way To Charge From Your Rvs Alternator
If you drive around a lot, you should consider tapping into your RVs alternator for some extra juice. The additional power generated can boost your battery bank or even a solar generator during winter or on cloudy days. There are different ways to do this without draining your starter battery or damaging the alternator.
Some people use anything from a rudimentary switch they can flick when driving to an isolator. My favorite and perhaps safest approaching is using a DC to DC charger.
A good DC-DC charge gives you granular control on the voltage and current you can push to your RV batteries making it a good idea if you own any form of lithium batteries. It is also gentle on your alternator hence reducing the chances of damaging your RV in the process.
Most RVs have alternators that can pump out between 50 Amps and 110 Amps. You can always do an alternator upgrade to push the figure as high as 200 Amps.
Choose your DC-DC charger such that it doesnt exceed 90 percent of the alternators output to avoid overtasking it. Either way, a 1.5 hour drive on an RV running a 100 Amp alternator is more than enough to generate the 861 Watts our example RV dweller needs to survive a night.
Here are some great DC to DC charges you can try out
Read Also: Where To Buy Sol Coin
Benefits Of A Solar Panel
Investing in RV solar panels and using it as a source of power for your recreational vehicle, carries with it plenty of benefits. Unlike a generator, a solar panel is beneficial because it does not come with any moving parts. In addition, it operates without noise or smell. It also requires the least amount of maintenance.
With that said, expect it to be cost-effective over time. Even better, with some patience, you can figure out how to tune your solar panel system to perfectly suits your needs. This will help you save time and money. You’ll know what the right solar panel system for you, even if what you need is only to keep a single battery charged. The video below might help.
You’ll also need to decide on your battery bank storage, so you can run all the appliances and conveniences that are part of your daily routine. Get enough battery storage that is at least twice the amount of power you use. Why? Your batteries will last longer. For more information see this article.
One more benefit of a solar energy is that it’s free. It makes use of the energy of the sun, which is free and does not require to spend on costly fuel.
What Our Solar Rv System Includes
Our decision to be a fully off-grid-capable system meant we wanted to run all of our major appliances with the exception of the air conditioner on our own power. This meant we needed to have a healthy budget, a detailed plan, and lots of help from good friends. The major components of our system are:
- Solar panels
Great solar weather in Bruneau Dunes State Park, Idaho. Photo: Sam Elliott
You May Like: What’s The Cost Of Solar Panels
Recommendations On Portable Solar Panels For Rvs And A Buying Guide For 2022
Buying your first portable solar panels for rv requires consideration of the following factors.
Search for product reviews on Google using the search bar. Isn’t it true that market place products come in first? There is a reason why people chase market place products.
Additionally, market place speaks directly with manufacturers, making it a trusted platform. If you were to buy a new laptop, would you buy it directly from a manufacturer or from a retailer?
The latter would undoubtedly be our preference.
There is vivid description of every product available on the market, which makes deciding easier.
Consider, for instance, going through the best portable solar panels for rv specification guide, which provides information on the brand, size, and function of the portable solar panels for rvs.
Is there a specific feature you are looking for in a portable solar panels for rv? We’ve got your back at market place. Search the best tools available on the website to find the laptops you prefer. Make sure the one you choose has the features you require.
Research is crucial for choosing the right portable solar panels for rv. Here are some questions you may ask yourself when buying:
The portable solar panels for rv needs to have enough information. How can you find it?
The list on this page is merely a sample of questions related to the portable solar panels for rv. Thus, gathering information from reputed online sources can help satisfy your curiosity.
How Many Solar Panels Do I Need For My Rv
If youre fond of camping and prefer to go solar, firstly, you have to answer the question, how many solar panels do I need for my RV? There are different methods on how to compute your recreational vehicles power requirements. One of these methods is to go camping for a few days without utilizing your AC generator.
All you need to do is to point out how long it takes to run your recreational vehicle during normal usage by utilizing batteries only, without a generator. To learn more about the number of solar panels needed for your RV, continue reading the rest of this post.
Don’t Miss: What Is The Best Efficiency Of Solar Panels
Choose The Battery Type
Deep cycle leisure batteries come in a number of technologies Lithium, AGM and Gel. You can read more about the pros and cons in our post on campervan batteries.
While Lithium are the latest most efficient, theyre also the most expensive. In fact, if you only intend to own your camper for a couple of years, theyre not the most cost effective either.
If you want to compare batteries to help find the most cost effective for your setup, use our battery life calculator before you buy.