As you are driving your RV down the highway, sunlight radiating in every direction, especially down your RV roof seems like a no-brainer!
Here are some benefits of adding top solar panels for RVs that you need to know right now:
Freedom: You can choose off-grid places to park your RV and enjoy using solar power.
Silence: Solar power does not produce loud noises, therefore, giving you peace of mind inside your RV.
Convenience: Solar power does not need any other fuel other than sunlight to operate. You also don’t need to spend more time and money to maintain it.
Green Merit Badge: Solar power system is an effective way of reducing your carbon emissions.
Cost: You don’t need to spend more money on maintaining your portable solar power system for RV.
Even though running solar power can save you money, buying and installing solar power for RV use can be a bit expensive, meaning money-saving measures will be after the fact.
But would installing a solar power system the right choice for you? Let’s evaluate based on the cost and benefits:
|Which are you?||Weekend Warrior||Boondocker||Fulltimer|
|Should you install Solar Panels on your RV?||No||Yes||Yes|
|Reason||For camp connections, a gasoline-enabled generator can save you more than a solar setup. Connections fees for occasional camping are not that expensive but it would take you a long time to recover your investment in an RV solar power system.||Connection fees can be a huge financial burden for boondockers. These campers are very likely to find dry camps and places that lack power connections. Solar power for RV use, even with a small generator that serves as a backup can repay your investment in 2 to 4 years.||When you weigh in the cost of plugging to the grid compared to the cost of installing your own solar power system, you will likely get your money’s worth within five to ten years, depending on your usage. After those years, you’ll be relying on free electricity! How great is that?|
How do you determine if it makes any financial sense to go solar? Take a look at the basic costs involved for the three categories of RVs: Weekend Warriors who occasionally use their RVs, Boondockers who spend a long time dry camping at campsites or in uninhabited areas, and Full-timers who spend a major part of their time at either campsites. The chart above is based on an average connection fee of $40/night.
How do you know then if a solar power system makes financial sense? This article will help you understand all the expenditures that you are going to make if you decide to buy solar panels for RV.
Does a Portable Solar Power System for RV Make Sense for You?
A completely off-grid solar power generating system is composed of solar panels, batteries, and monitoring and controlling devices. The general rule is the more solar panels and batteries you have, the more appliances you can use. However, you need to determine first how much power you normally use so that you can estimate the cost of powering the appliances and other devices inside your RV.
- The Math of Energy Consumption
The following chart is a quick guide as to whether a solar power system makes sense for an RV camper. This chart is based on a lifestyle category. For a more in-depth analysis, all you need to do is to examine your own electric consumption. Know how much electricity your individual appliances use. It is very possible to use solar power to a portion, but not all, of your RV appliances.
- Typical Electricity Consumption per Day in Watt-Hours/Day
Listed below are the usual electricity consumption figure for some RV appliances: a 19-inch LCD TV, a 13-inch laptop, four lamps, a water pump, two electric fans, a 1000W microwave, and an under-the-counter refrigerator. While this chart gives usual consumption of electricity, you should come up with your own list custom-made to your own personal level of electricity usage.
Samples of RV Appliance Power Use
In doing your estimations, make sure that you include other appliances that you use occasionally, such as your hair dryer or your vacuum cleaner. Include other appliances that consume power while not being used as well because you need to add a margin of capacity for sleep mode.
Basic Parts of an RV Solar Power System
There are lots of configurations on an RV solar power system, especially if you want to do the installation yourself. For a 400W starter kit appropriate for the roof of a standard RV, you need to buy solar panels for RVs with good wiring and a charge controller. You will also certainly need batteries to store the solar energy, a monitor, and an inverter to transform DC energy to AC energy that will power your RV appliances.
Solar panels are usually similar in physical appearance and size, but the materials used in manufacturing their solar cells can differ. The most popular material for solar cells nowadays is crystalline silicon, which makes up the two most recognizable types of solar panels:
- Polycrystalline – which is the most popular and cheaper and
- Monocrystalline – more efficient but more expensive.
Another type of solar panel that you can purchase is the TFSC or Thin-film Solar Cell. This can be made into any flexible shapes. The downside of this, however, is that TFSC is less efficient compared to crystalline silicon solar panels.
2. Charge Controller
The charge controller is installed between the power source (solar panels) and the power storage (batteries). The function of the charge controller is to limit the amount of solar power going to the batteries. It also protects the batteries from completely draining when the sensor detects that the remaining power is below 50%.
3. The Inverter
The function of the inverter is to convert the DC energy stored in the batteries into AC energy for your RV appliances’ consumption. It is installed after the batteries.
The batteries will store the solar power that your panels have collected all day. Most RVs have at least one 12V lead-acid battery. If you are going to install solar power system, adding three more in parallel will provide 280-340 AH (amp-hours) capacity. Lithium-Ion batteries are surely more expensive compared to lead-acid ones but they are more efficient in storing solar energy. Plus, Li-Ion batteries weigh half compared to lead-acid batteries.
Guide to Going Off-Grid with Solar Power
If you’re a DIY type of person, here are some guides we would recommend you go through. Click on the book title or image for more information.
While you are still deciding on what to do, you can have a look at Portable Solar Power Kits for Camping, or you can familiarize yourself with solar energy by using Solar Powered Chargers.
How much are Top Solar Panels for RVs?
Theoretically speaking, a 400W system collecting sunlight for at least five hours can produce 2,000W. But in reality, only a few days in a week can have 100% sunny days, and only a few systems can reach 100% efficiency. However, a 400W solar power system can produce enough energy for both Boondockers and Weekend Warriors alike.
If you are Boondocking, the most practical approach to your situation is to install 800W or more. This way, your unit will be generating up to 4,000W, which is good enough to power your RV appliances. While doubling the wattage will require you to install four more solar panels and connect one or two more batteries, your monitor and charge controller will remain the same – one unit each. The net cost for adding solar panels and batteries will be around $800 to $1,000.
There are many ways to purchase the best solar panels for RVs. First, you can buy them online. Amazon is the best place to start if you want to buy solar panels for RVs.
A solar power system for RVs is often sold in kits, meaning you will find the basic items such as solar panels, charge controller, monitor, connectors, and wires grouped in one package. You can also purchase it on home improvement stores nationwide. You have to remember though, that the kits may or may not contain charge controller, inverter, and mounting gears. If you want them, you may need to purchase them separately.
Our recommended option would be to purchase from Amazon.com.
In conclusion, installing top solar panels for RVs is an extensive task. You need to know exactly how much energy your RV appliances use and make room for sleep mode. This way, you will be able to get the most from your RV solar power system without straining the unit and your budget. If you don’t know where to begin, we highly suggest that you take a closer look at the charts that we have provided in order for you to come up with a good plan.