Tuesday, November 21, 2023

How Many Solar Panels To Power A Camper

How Much Contingency Do I Need

How many solar panels and batteries you need to power your camper

How much contingency you want to include is completely upto you.

Weve always used about 20% and it has served us well.

If you dont rely on your electrical system, consider reducing it a little.

If unsure of your power use or appliances, consider increasing the contingency youll never complain about having too much battery.

You can deduct contingency too by using a negative number. The calculator will warn you the value should be a positive number but will calculate accordingly.

How Rv Solar Panels Power An Rv Air Conditioner

Yes, its technically possible to power an RV air conditioner with solar panel. But to generate enough power, a large amount of solar panels and upgrades to the electrical system are required. Or, another device called a Soft Start. The vast majority of RV owners will not go to these lengths. But you are willing to design a big enough system for RV solar panels to power an RV air conditioner, keep reading.

Minimum Battery Bank Size For Rv Ac

As discussed above, running your RV air conditioner requires a lot of power. The larger your battery is though, the more energy storage you will have available to power your RV AC. When it comes to options, we usually recommend stringing together a few lithium ion batteries, such as the LFP12V200A from AIMS Power, for your solar battery bank.

Cheaper options, such as lead acid batteries, become damaged if they are fully drained, whereas most lithium batteries are built to be used to their full potential. When running an AC unit in your RV, you will want to use every Amp hour you can in order to keep your RV cool. Because air conditioning units can use over 100 amps each hour, for overnight use, we recommend a battery or battery bank with an absolute MINIMUM of 700Ah.

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So How Many Solar Panels Do You Need On Your Rv

Solar panels are sold in different sizes. The most common is the 100 watt, although 10, 20, 50, 75, 150, 200, 225, 250, 275, and 300-watt models can all be found. They are generally priced around a $1/watt regardless of size so theres no discount or penalty for getting bigger panels.

The bigger panels are heavier and their physical size can make it harder to find a location for them on your roof. For these reasons, most people just buy 100-watt panels. So in the example above you would need at least 1. Personally, I would put on at least 2 and if I could afford it I would do 4. We travel a lot all over the country so having the extra capacity never hurts.

Learn more about important topics like this in these articles: Are RV Solar Panels Worth It? and How Do You Dump RV Waste?

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Rv & Camper Solar Panel Setup

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run My RV?

Solar panels for your RV or camper work pretty much the same as solar panels for your home. The solar panels collect the suns rays and convert them into electricity, which can be used for appliances and other electronic devices.

However, there are several differences between solar for your RV or camper and solar for your home.

First of all, a solar panel system for an RV or camper is much smaller. The roof space on an RV or camper is very limited, and this means fewer and smaller solar panels.

Also, the energy needs of an RV or camper are much less than that of an entire home. Most of the time, only a few appliances or electronic devices will be used at once, so not as many solar panels are necessary.

And while most RVs and campers can hook up to electricity onsite, some owners prefer to go off-grid , which opens up a wider range of excursion options. This will require a sufficient battery backup system to store energy for future needs.

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Configuring An Rv Solar Panel System

There are three kinds of solar panels for RVs: monocrystalline, polycrystalline and amorphous.

  • Monocrystalline panels are the most efficient of the three, so they will generate the most energy in the least amount of time.
  • Polycrystalline panels are slightly less efficient, but they’re a durable and reliable option.
  • Amorphous panels are newer to the market. They aren’t as efficient as their counterparts, but the thin and bendable construction makes them easy to install.

In addition to solar panels, there are several other components that you’ll need to complete your RV solar system, including:

  • Solar inverter, which converts the solar energy from DC to AC power
  • Charge controller, which protects the storage system from overcharging
  • Solar battery, which stores the generated energy

These components are often bundled with solar panels, which is great for first-time solar installers. If you already have solar panels that you want to use, you can purchase these items separately.

Although it is possible to use residential solar panels on your RV, it’s not an option that we recommend. That’s because these types of panels are larger and take up more roof space than the RV-specific products, so you may not have enough room on top of your vehicle. Also, the voltage on residential panels may not be compatible with the other components of your RV solar power system.

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Choosing The Size Of Your Solar Components To Power An Rv Air Conditioner

For starters, youll need to know how many amps your air conditioner pulls during operation. Many RVs come with a standard air conditioning unit with a 13,500 BTU rating.

There are, however, certain RVs with larger A/C units rated much higher.

For the purposes of the calculations throughout the remainder of this section, were going to use averages for a 13,500 BTU air conditioning unit.

If your RVs electrical panel has an LED display that tells you how many amps youre pulling, figuring out your draw might be as simple as turning on your A/C unit and reading the display.

However, this could also be a great opportunity to employ an RV surge protector with an LED display if your rigs electrical panel doesnt have a built-in LED monitor.

Once you know how many amps your air conditioning pulls at different settings, youll have a few figures to work with as you determine the size of the various components youll need for your solar energy installation.

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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:


Connect The Inverter To The Rv Solar Power System

RV Solar Living Basics: How Many Batteries and Panels to Use

The last essential piece of your solar installation is the DC-to-AC inverter. The size of your inverter will largely depend on the starting wattage of your air conditioning unit.

Most 13,500 BTU air conditioners have a starting wattage between 2800 and 3000 watts. However, you dont want to necessarily max out your inverter every time you start up your A/C.

So, youll most likely want an RV inverter between 3500 and 4000 watts. Of course, this number will be higher if you have a larger air conditioning unit that requires a higher starting wattage.

Running wattage, on the other hand, is usually less than starting wattage for all RV appliances, including your A/C unit.

That being said, be careful to look at starting wattage over running wattage when determining how large of an inverter to incorporate into your solar installation.

While its possible to use a smaller inverter along with a soft start to reduce starting wattage, the safest way to design your installation is to use an inverter thats rated for 700 to 1200 watts higher than the starting wattage of your RV air conditioning unit.

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What Factors Affect A Solar Systems Performance

There are many factors that will affect your RVs solar system performance which will require you to change your design. These will fall into three categories. Variables in the amount of energy you use, variables in the amount of energy you take in, and variables in the efficiencies of your solar system. Lets start with the efficiencies in the system first because these are one-time variables, or decay slowly over time so they are easy to account for.

Video How Many Solar Panels Do You Need On Your Rv

In a previous post I looked at charging EVs with solar in some detail.

It is viable with around 2000 watts of solar panels, say 7 x 250 watts, to charge an average EV such as a Nissan leaf, but this assumes an average American commute of 30 miles a day, not the full range or capacity of the battery.

The Dethleff Electric RV boasts a 150 miles range without fitting out with its camper trim, so it will be less than this.

Also, the 3000 kW of solar panels is not going to provide nearly as much power as you might think. Look at the panel orientation:

  • Top in flat orientation solar panels lose 10 to 15% power output
  • One side could be considered on average to be facing the sun at 90 degrees angle. This is not an efficient angle and power output will be down between 25% to 30%
  • The opposite side can be considered to be facing North and so output from this array will be down at least 30%

In short, covering an RV with solar panels is a bad idea and little more than a sales gimmick.

It is much more efficient to mount an optimum amount on the top of an RV where there is always a reasonable amount of sunshine.

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How To Install Panels On Your Rv

When mounting solar panels on the roof of your RV, the method of installation will depend on whether youve chosen rigid or flexible panels.

Rigid panels require screws for secure mounting while certain flexible panels can use an adhesive material to affix to your roof.

If you do go the flexible panel route, make sure the material of your roof membrane is suited to the adhesive material youre using to secure panels.

How Much Battery Capacity Do I Need To Support My Solar Panels

RV Solar Panels: The Best Option for Bringing Power to ...

If you have an average 12 volt battery, you will be able to get around 100 amp hours of electrical storage. Under ideal conditions, this is sufficient to store up to 300 watts of solar panels.

If you had a pair of 12 volt batteries, or perhaps four 6 volt batteries, you would be able to store between 200 to 250 am hours, which should be enough to support up 600 watts of solar panels.

If you have a large Class A motorhome, your wattage and amp hour storage needs might be significantly higher.

In this scenario, lets say you have four robust 12 volt batteries, which would give you an impressive 400 to 600 amp hours of storage to support up to 1,200 watts from photovoltaic solar panels.

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Calculating Energy Generation And Storage Needs

A decent assumption is that a 100-Watt solar panel will generate on average 350 Watt-hours of power per day. However, this will vary significantly by location and time of year. This article by Mortons on the Move explains a way to get a more accurate result by using PVwatts.

Youll also need to know how many batteries youll need to store that amount of power! One 100 ah 12volt Battle Born battery has about 1200 Watt-hours storage capacity.

Keep in mind that your solar panels will only give you the stated number of Watts under perfect conditions. Perfect conditions = direct sun pointing directly at the panel. On a rainy day, you wont get 100 Watts from your 100-Watt solar panel. If youre parking in the shade, you wont get 200 Watts from your 200-Watt solar panel.

Its also challenging to estimate the amount of power youll use on a given day because days are different. You may be outside all day today enjoying nature, and fall into bed and watch 15 minutes of television tonight. Tomorrow could be a rainy day, and youll stay inside your RV, do a lot of work on your laptop, and watch a couple of hours of television in the evening. So estimating high is usually a good idea!

Can Solar Panels Power An Rv Air Conditioner

Renewable energy has already become a popular option for many green construction projects and homes. And if you are an RV owner and want to install a solar panel, its a great way to reduce your energy costs. It will also increase your ability to live better off-grid.

But how much wattage can solar energy generate? Can solar panels power an RV air conditioner? Many RV owners have to deal with these or other similar questions a lot. And the question is quite valid.

Most of the RV air conditioners need around 1700W to 3500W to power up. To keep them running, they need about 600W to 1500W. To determine what type of solar panels, you must find out the exact amount of wattage that your AC unit needs to power up and run and the size of the solar panels required to run it.

So, you need to properly set your rig up to use the solar panel and other appliances with solar energy. And in this guide, we will discuss all the intricacies of setting up a solar panel in your RV to run your AC and other appliances.

  • Final Thoughts
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    Pv Module Efficiency Rating

    Besides the weather, the efficiency rating is another factor. The greater the efficiency rating, the more energy from the sun gets converted into current.

    Efficiency ratings range from 15% for the really low end modules up to 23% for high end solar panels. Those few percentage points make a huge difference especially during imperfect conditions.

    In ideal weather any solar panel can produce solar power. But it is during dark overcast days you can separate the high rated modules from the inefficient ones.

    Panels with higher efficiency rating may cost more, but you will be happy for it during cloudy days. They will still be able to convert energy into solar power, something inefficient PV modules cannot do.

    Rv Solar Calculator For Off Grid Living

    How many solar panels do I need on my RV?

    Home » Camper van conversion guide » RV Solar Calculator for Off Grid Living

    This RV solar calculator will help you correctly size your entire camper solar system. It includes your inverter, solar panels, solar charge controller and battery bank too.

    Its simple and straightforward to use. Weve included a section below to answer some questions you may have.

    And its just one of our electrical calculators for RVs and campervan conversions too.

    And its just one of our electrical calculators for RVs and campervan conversions too.

    Calculating the minimum size of your RV solar system is a major step in finalising your electrical design.

    Get this right and you can complete your DIY campervan conversion with confidence.

    Need help & advice with your electrical setup?

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    Frequently Asked Questions About Rv Solar Panels

    How many solar panels do I need to run an RV?

    This depends on the wattage of the solar panel or panels that you have. For example, a 100-watt solar panel is enough to power smaller appliances and devices, such as lights or chargers, but you would likely need more than one panel for larger appliances. You would probably need a higher watt solar panel or to install at least two depending on your energy needs.

    Which type of solar panel is best for RVs?

    Portable solar power systems or flexible solar panels are ideal for RVs. They are smaller, easier to install, and cost-effective compared to ground-mount or rooftop solar panels.

    How much is a solar kit for RVs?

    This largely depends on what you get, but you should expect to pay between $300-$400 for a solar panel system for an RV. It is best to shop around and compare solar systems online.

    Can you run an RV air conditioner with solar power?

    You can, but not with one 100-watt panel. There are several factors to consider with RV air conditioners, including time of day, location, number of panels and the demands of your AC system. Modern air conditioners have the wattage they pull displayed on the name piece, with smaller and medium-sized air conditioners typically requiring 500-900 watts every hour. So, while you certainly can run your RV air conditioner on solar power, youll need more than one panel to do it.

    Do I need an inverter to convert DC to AC with RV solar panels?

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