How Many Rv Solar Panels Do You Need
Unlike residential and commercial solar systems, which are designed to power an entire home or business, RV solar systems typically deliver a more modest output. This usually isn’t an issue since you don’t use as many lights and appliances in your RV as you would in a brick-and-mortar property.
So how many solar panels will you need for an RV? It depends on a few factors, including your energy consumption habits, the efficiency of the panels and the amount of sunshine your home receives each day.
Calculating your average daily energy consumption is the first step to determining what size RV solar system you need. To do this, you’ll need to make a list of the appliances you want to use, how much power they require and how many hours per day you’ll use them.
For example, let’s say you have a 500-watt microwave that you want to use for 15 minutes each day. By multiplying these figures, you can determine that you’d need to generate 125 watts of electricity just to use your microwave for that amount of time. Repeat this process with every device or appliance.
To figure out how much electricity your system will generate per day, you need to multiply your system size by how many hours of direct sunlight your panels would receive daily.
With some quick math, we can see that this system will generate 4,000 watt-hours of electricity per day. You can use this output as a benchmark to compare against your energy needs , then adjust the number of panels and wattage accordingly.
Best Flexible Solar Panels For A Camper
There are a number of brands that make flexible solar panels specifically for campers. Commonly, these panels can bend up to 30 degrees making them a good choice for curved surfaces like teardrop trailers or boats.
They are also lightweight and are much easier to install than rigid panels.
For the best flexible panels, we recommend ALLPOWERS, Renogy and Suaoki brands. They share many of the same features including a decent warranty, high efficiency, and resistance to extreme weather.
How To Size Your Rv Solar Roof
Sizing your RV solar roof requires a more delicate approach. Each of you probably has a different RV that you are looking to power with solar energy.
Therefore, the answer depends on what appliances you plan to run in your RV.
To start, we recommend listing motor-based units first. These are your air conditioners, water pumps, and refrigerators.
Other heating appliances such as toasters, water heaters, microwaves, and coffee brewers also contribute substantially to your RV solar system size.
Lastly, you have your small appliances, electronics, and portable devices such as TV, lighting, fans, gadgets, and stereo.
Next, you have two options:
Option 1: DIY Solar Roof Sizing
The first one is to look at each appliances nameplate rating, then add all the watt ratings.
A nameplate is a label slapped on a device. The information on the plate includes the model and serial number, the manufacturing date, and the location of assembly.
More importantly, a nameplate provides basic electrical information about an appliance. This is where you can find the power requirements of your device expressed either in watts , kilowatts , or horsepower .
It is also beneficial to express all power units in watts. Therefore, here is a conversion table for different units of power
- 1 hp = 735.5 watts
- 1kw = 1000 watts
Now, lets apply these concepts in the figure below to help you master reading nameplates.
Option 2: Online Calculators
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Rv Batteries For A Solar System
In most cases, an RV or trailer will already have one or more house batteries for storage. This makes integrating solar panels and a solar charger to the existing electrical system the simplest solution.
This was the case for our application however we did end up replacing the batteries down the road. Its a good idea to have a load test performed if your batteries are older. Most automotive parts stores will provide this service free of charge though you may have to disconnect and possibly remove your batteries for testing.
If you are designing your system from scratch or plan to replace your systems batteries it is often easiest and most financially efficient to choose good quality deep cycle batteries. This is the type commonly used in RV and marine applications.
Deep cycle batteries are designed to handle higher current output and be charged and discharged more frequently as is the case in an RV house battery application.
There is a lot of talk about using 6V batteries in an RV which are typically used in golf carts. Implementing these batteries requires more technical design considerations and therefore a more complex system.
Another technological advancement in recent years is the availability of Lithium batteries like those used in electric cars. Lithium batteries are much more expensive than deep cycle lead acid batteries and more difficult to find replacements should something go wrong.
How Many Batteries Will You Need
Now, how many 100Ah batteries will you need to supply 3.3 kWh? The answer is just one.
3.3 kWh needed by a 115V fridge is equivalent to 28.7 Ah. If you want to confirm the math, the formula for power is:
Power = Voltage * Current
Using our given values, we get:
28.696 Ah = 3,300 Wh / 115 V
Alright! Another tool in our solar design utility belt. Now, for those who hate these kinds of conversions, dont fret. Here is an online calculator to convert kWh to Ah.
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Choosing Your Solar Panels
Before you buy brand new solar panels, be sure to do the measuring and make sure theyll actually fit on top of your campervan. This may sound obvious but its a common error that many people make. Once youve done this, you have a couple of choices for your solar panel types Monocrystalline or Polycrystalline Solar Panels. There is no clear answer as to which makes the best solar panels for a van conversion, but luckily, its not too hard to choose between them. This decision will be determined by your budget and the amount of space you have on top of your motorhome.
Solar Panels For Your Rv
There are many benefits of having solar panels on your RV, and depending on your lifestyle they could save you a TON of money. However, there are also reasons you could argue for why you shouldnât install panels. If youâre thinking about getting them for your RV but are still on the fence about it, here are some things to consider!
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How Do Solar Panels Work On An Rv
Most people think that solar panels are meant to power an RV â and thatâs not entirely true. The purpose for solar power is to recharge your battery bank. Solar panels work the same as a gas generator except it requires no gas, makes no noise and can charge your batteries for a long period of time .
According to EnergySage, if you have an 800 W system thatâs in direct sunlight for five hours a day, it will produce 4,000 watt-hours of energy each day. To put that into perspective, youâll be able to power small electronic devices like a TV or a microwave, but you wonât be able to run your refrigerator for an entire day.
If there isnât any sunlight for a few days, however, that can pose a problem. Itâs a good idea to have a plan B â like a back-up generator.
How Much Do Rv Solar Panels Cost
Full RV solar roofs will cost about $2 to $ 2.7 per watt, while solar panels alone will cost you around $1.5 per watt. Looking at the $ per watt of a product will give you an idea as to whether youre purchasing a whole package or just solar panels. Expect that the latter will not have any inverter to convert 12V to 120V and a battery to store energy.
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Connect All The Components
At this point, you should have your panels mounted adequately and the solar cables dangling inside your RV. Depending on the kit you purchased, the last thing you have to do is mount and connect the charge controller and inverter. If you have a battery, integrate it into the system as well.
Again, nothing beats reading the instruction manual on how everything fits. By the end, a complete RV solar roof should look like the figure below. Remember that inverters and batteries are always optional depending on what you want to operate via solar energy.
Best Rv Solar Panel Kits
If youre building a DIY solar panel system from scratch, sometimes the easiest thing to do is purchase a solar kit.
Solar panel kits normally come with panels, mounting hardware, connectors, and a charge controller. Generally not included is the batteries, inverter, and wires.
Bundling these items together can ensure that all of the components work together seamlessly.
The main differences youll see in solar panel kits are:
- Solar panel type
- Solar output size
- Charge controller type
The most efficient kits come with MPPT charge controllers and monocrystalline panels. Budget solar kits generally have polycrystalline panels and PWM charge controllers.
The difference in solar panel type is the surface area. 100W is 100W no matter what type of panel you buy.
Monocrystalline panels are slightly more efficient so they will take up less space on your roof. That said, with the advancement of technology solar efficiency is between these two types of panels is negligible. They both work effectively.
MPPT charge controllers are more efficient than PWM. However, due to the way solar scales, the difference between the two does not favor the MPPT controller until systems over 400W. You can read more about this in our post on charge controllers.
After you decide how many solar panels you need, choose a kit that is sized correctly for you.
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How Many Solar Panels Does My Rv Need
You are looking to purchase about 13 to 50 pieces of monocrystalline solar panels with a rated power output of 100 watts up to 400 watts to power 5kW worth of appliances in your RV.
But, before anything else, we advise that you brace yourself.
Because the following two sections will tackle slightly advanced solar energy concepts. Its a bit tricky, but if you stick with us throughout, we promise that you will be confident in sizing your own RV solar roof by the end.
How Much Does An Rv Solar Installation Cost
Just like in the case of a home solar system installation, the cost depends on several factors. For example, your power needs and the amount of space you have. Besides, the more batteries and panels you use, the higher your cost will be.
In general, the cost can be from $500 and $700 and above. Larger solar installations can go up to $2,000. But, over the years, solar prices have dropped. Also, most solar panels have a warranty of over 20 years, making them a worthwhile investment.
Further, in the US, you qualify for a solar tax credit of up to 30% of your solar system. But, this only applies if you install and have the panels running by 2023. With such benefits, it means the solar system will pay for itself in the long term.
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Buy All The Components You Need
Buy everything you need before you start the solar panel installation.
If buying a pre-configured solar panel kit, make sure it has everything you need, nothing you dont need and it makes economical sense.
Youll still need to buy batteries and maybe extra cables so take this into account.
Do Calculations Based Upon Max Capacity
You want to do your wire size calculations based on the maximum capacity of your solar controller.
This is true even if you aren’t using the controller’s full capacity right now.
You will want to allow for possible future system expansion .
Keep in mind that you may want to add ground deploy capability in the future if you aren’t already.
Ground Deploy Solar Panels
Run the ground deploys through your solar controller so you don’t end up with two controllers working against each other.
Don’t forget to factor in ground deploy panel wattage into your wire size calculations.
And factor in the extra power input from any ground deploys when you are sizing your solar controller.
So. Much. To. Consider.
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Mounting Solar Panels To A Rubber Rv Roof
The most common RV roof type is rubber, made out of a material known as EPDM or TPO.
The sheet of rubber lays over a layer of wood, so the best way to mount solar panels to this type of roof is to screw them in with lag bolts.
Youll need mounting brackets to attach to the glass solar panels, and then you will screw them directly into your roof, being careful to place them in a way that avoids shadows and doesnt interfere with the use of your other roof accessories. Once they are screwed in, youll want to cover each hole with Dicor or another RV-safe self leveling lap-sealant.
The simplest solar panel mounting hardware is known as a Z-bracket. This is the most common type of mounting bracket that comes in RV solar kits.
You can also get tilting hardware, make custom brackets, or use brand-specific hardware like Renogys brackets. Simply search RV solar mounting hardware to explore your options.
One thing you want to avoid when mounting solar panels to a rubber roof is you do not want to use VHB tape as recommended by some RVers. This is because the top of your roof is simply a sheet that can peel off if the glue becomes detached enough. It would be like taping a picture frame to wrapping paper that has been stuck to your wall. If the wrapping paper can fly off, the photo will, too.
Have Access To All The Solar Installation Tools Needed
You can probably find most solar installation tools you need in the bottom of your toolbox but theres a few things a little more specialist, like a multimeter.
Check out our complete guide for how to use a digital multimeter in your camper.
Make sure you have them before you start.
The step by step instructions on how to install solar panels on a camper van conversion below lists all the tools needed.
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Do You Really Need Rv Solar Panels
While RV solar panels are great, they arent necessary. In fact, most RV campers probably dont need solar panels – if you spend most of your time camping on campgrounds with power hookups, then RV solar panels probably arent right for you.
But, for all of the boondockers out there, RV solar panels are a great, cost-effective investment. Boondocking is when you camp off-grid, outside the amenities of campgrounds, including electricity. In this case, RV solar panels can come in handy. They allow you to keep your batteries charged, and you can charge additional batteries for backup power, as well.
Also, because the solar panels slowly charge your batteries, they can end up prolonging your RV battery life. Plus, unlike conventional generators that you may use to help power your RV, you dont have to worry about buying propane for every trip. Once you invest in RV solar panels, there are almost no additional operating costs unless equipment needs to be replaced.
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The Rv Solar System Advantage
You now have energy independence and will be able to relax in the most remote camping locations for days on end. Having solar panels on the roof of an RV is an eco friendly way to immerse yourself in the outdoors without the tether of an electrical cord or hum of a generator.
Enjoy the peace and beauty without being left in the dark!
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Are Solar Panels Worth It
This depends solely on your lifestyle. If you enjoy spending a majority of time âoff-the-gridâ or frequent dry camps without power hookups , then solar energy may be the way to go. Having solar could open up a lot more possibilities and allow you to explore different spots, rather than just hunting down the next camp with a hookup. Plus – you will certainly see some long-term savings if you compare solar panels to a gas generator. According to experts, you can expect your solar âpayback periodâ to be around five years.1
However, if you are someone that spends a majority of your time at campsites with hookups or you only take big RV trips a few times a year, installing solar panels wouldnât be practical. You are better off using the campâs local power system and paying the associated fee.
How Rv Solar Works
Solar power lets you take your RV off-grid and still use your refrigerator, lights and other appliances. The best part? Its cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and requires little maintenance but how does it work? In this guide, we will explain how RV solar works, and the components to a complete solar charging system.
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