Are you looking to take advantage of free and clean energy? Are you wondering, “How much solar power do I need for my RV?”
Did you know that over 11 million people in the United States own an RV? Also, RV solar panels are now becoming an essential feature in RVs.
Since the number of RVs has steadily risen over the last few decades, more and more folks have started thinking about owning one. But, on top of everything else you need to think about with the average RV, you’ve got to figure out how to make it work with solar energy.
Fortunately, we’re here to help guide you through it all.
Let’s look at what you need to know about how much solar power you need for your RV.
Solar Power for Your RV
RV solar is not as tricky as it may appear at first glance. While there are numerous ways to tailor your solar setup to your specific requirements, every system is comprised of three major components:
The Solar Panels
Solar panels absorb direct sunlight power. The sun’s rays strike the solar panels, generating electricity. RV solar panels convert sunlight into electricity.
The Charge Controller
The electricity passes through a charge controller, which regulates the battery’s charge and converts the raw energy from the panels into a storage-friendly format.
Batteries store energy for use in your RV. Batteries generate direct current (DC) electricity.
Most RVs today are set up to use direct current (DC) power for:
- Your lights
- Your fridge
- Your heaters
- Your water pumps
An inverter turns this DC power into AC current (Alternating current). So the electricity that allows you to use your appliances etc, is known as alternating current (AC).
Many newer RVs have USB ports that use DC power for charging small electronic goods such as cell phones.
Should you want to use AC power, think of standard household plugs, you’ll need to include an inverter in your structure. Inverters convert the DC output stored in your batteries into an AC current that you can use to power appliances such as your TV and microwave.
How Much Solar Power Do I Need for My RV?
Adding solar panels to your RV allows you to travel beyond the confines of traditional campgrounds.
RV solar panels help you power the luxuries and fixtures that make your RV a true home away from home. But, the question is, how much solar power do you need to harness for your RV?
The concept of solar battery charging and usage is straightforward. You can only use as much power as you can place into the batteries. Your batteries will eventually die if you use more energy than you charge.
Batteries only store electricity temporarily. They allow the power to flow through them.
The amount of charging is more important than the amount of electricity used. This is because batteries require more input than output.
If you use more power than your solar panels produce, you will discharge your batteries completely. Of course, you can add an infinite number of batteries to meet these needs, but it’s not the ideal situation.
More solar panels are what they really need. As a general rule, don’t use more than half of the total battery capacity at any one given time. More importantly, the larger the solar power panel arrangement, the better.
Finally, keep the age and size of all the batteries in the system as near to each other as possible. This is, so the strong ones don’t lose power helping the weaker ones keep up.
How to Calculate the Amount of Solar Power You Need For Your RV
It’s critical to go into your solar power config knowing exactly what you need and don’t need. Of course, you can cover every little bit of your RV with solar panels, but this is inevitably a waste of money. But on the other end, misjudging the number of panels required can result in power outages or force you to use an alternative, more expensive options.
The Difference Between Amps and Amp-Hours
As mentioned previously, amps are used to power appliances. The amp-hour is another unit that defines the number of amps used by a device over the course of an hour.
For example, consider an appliance that uses three-amps to work:
- When running for an hour, this appliance will consume three amp-hours
- Those same amp-hours will be taken from the batteries
- In turn, the batteries will get the solar panels to refuel the amp-hours
As a result, you must know the number of amp-hours you will use on a typical day. In addition, those amp-hours must eventually be refurnished by the solar panels. Therefore, the number and size of panels you buy will be decided by the number of amp-hours you use per day.
Begin by making a list of the appliances you intend to use while travelling and how long you anticipate using each of them.
Then you’ll need to look into the wattage of each appliance. The maximum watts of most devices are listed on a label on the back or bottom. If you can’t find the sticker, look up the appliance’s wattage on the internet.
Predict the number of amp hours you may use in a day by multiplying the number of hours each appliance will run by the device’s amps. For example:
- One lightbulb DC light will typically use 1.5 amps
- A dual fluorescent lightbulb typically uses 1.5 amps
- A 19 inch LCD TV commonly uses 5.5 amps
- A laptop that is left switched on and running uses approximately 6 to 8 amps
A typical RVer will take one to three 100-watt solar panels with them on their road trip. When used correctly, each peak-sun-hour can produce nearly six amps, which results in approximately 30 amp-hours per day.
Typically a family out camping in a medium-sized RV uses anywhere from 50 to 150 amp-hours per day. Most likely, most of the usage falls between 50 and 90 amp-hours.
Of course, it goes without saying that the choice of RV will affect the number of solar panels needed. A smaller RV consuming 30 amps, for example, will not need the setup of as many solar panels as a larger RV truck.
If you want to go the easier route, you can enter the details of the appliances you have into a calculator. This calculator will calculate the size of the solar panel arrangement and battery bank required to support your off-grid power usage. But, again, there are plenty of calculators and downloadable sheets available online for this purpose.
Benefits of RV Solar Panels
There are several benefits to installing a solar-powered system on your RV. Here are some of them:
- The power source is literally endless
- It’s good for the environment
- RV solar systems need little to no maintenance
- RV solar panels can help you extend the life of your battery
- It enables you to go into more natural and remote settings
While RV solar panels are not a necessity, they offer several benefits. Installing RV solar panels may allow you to cut the cord and travel off-grid.
Now let’s go a little in-depth about why solar power should be your next upgrade for your RV.
If financial savings are your main objective with solar power, you’ll need to compare your solar system’s cost estimate to the average price of your current configuration, whether it’s generator fuel and maintenance or RV park fees, or both.
Solar energy is an investment that will pay off in the long run. However, it sometimes takes years to show savings. Of course, the more frequently you use your solar system instead of other power sources, the faster it will pay for itself.
Solar also offers less obvious financial advantages, such as keeping your battery’s charge, which significantly lengthens your solar battery‘s lifespan and saves you money on repair or replacement.
Gives You Freedom of Movement
Sometimes, going solar is purely financial, but this is not always the case. Solar power can definitely save you money, but it is not the only reason to make the investment.
A significant benefit of RVing for many people is the ability to stop and set up camp almost anywhere and whenever they want. There are numerous beautiful out-of-the-way places to set up camp. However, not all of them are equipped with RV hookups, which can be a problem in some cases.
Besides this, many campgrounds have rules and regulations regarding generators. With solar power, you can camp anywhere there is enough sunlight if you use solar panels.
Having an RV solar power system is more valuable if you intend to spend more time away from RV parks and their hookups and off the beaten track.
You Don’t Always Have to Rely on a Generator
Generators are a valuable power source for RV camping, but they are not without their drawbacks:
- Generators can make a lot of noise
- They can produce fumes and pollute the environment
- The use of these items is governed by the rules and regulations of the campground where you are camping
- You need to carry and store the fuel for them
All of the following are compelling arguments in favor of solar energy:
- Perhaps you want to reduce your environmental impact
- Maybe you crave peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle
- Maybe you simply enjoy the thought of charging yourself up on your own, irrespective of where you’re camping
However, it is essential to note that even with solar power, it is unlikely that you will be able to remove the need for a generator altogether. Certain items will almost certainly require a power boost, such as:
- Air conditioners
- Some more powerful hair dryers
- Other appliances that require a significant amount of power to operate
On the other hand, solar energy can significantly reduce your reliance on your generator.
Increases Your RVs Battery Lifespan
The lifespan of an RV battery varies depending on the battery type and how the RV is used, but most last between 5-7 years on average.
The very worst thing you can do is to allow your battery to deplete to less than half of its capacity. For example, if you allow your battery to run down to 50 percent of its power, it can significantly shorten the battery’s life expectancy.
On the other hand, solar power helps keep your RV batteries healthy and charged, allowing you to extend your battery’s life significantly. The best part is that you can sit back and relax and let the sun do the hard work.
The primary benefit of solar energy in an RV is that it operates from dawn to dusk. Furthermore, it does this quietly, odor-free, and without the need for fuel or maintenance. All this regardless of where you are or what you are doing.
The batteries are being charged while towing, parked at the grocery store, or camping. They begin charging before you even finish your breakfast, continue charging while you go about your daily excursions, and continue charging all day, come rain or shine.
They don’t stop charging until it’s dark. And this is why you never have to worry about charging the batteries. It simply happens.
Remember to always keep your panels clean and free of dirt, snow, and other debris, especially during storage. Of course, it goes without saying that sunlight cannot reach your panels through the dust and debris!
Keep on Rolling
An RV solar panel system is an incredible asset to your recreational vehicle ownership.
In addition to helping you to improve your camping experience, solar panels are also valuable to our environment. It will save you money in the future if you plan ahead of time!
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