Beginners Guide to RV Solar Panels

Posted on 08/12/2022 by RV Industry News 303
Beginners Guide to RV Solar Panels

Imagine camping off-grid and enjoying all the plugged-in comforts of home... without the noise and fuel requirements of a generator.

You've probably seen solar panels on houses, businesses and government buildings around town. But did you know that you can also put RV solar panels atop your home on wheels?

This green technology is a great way to power up when you're on the move. They're especially welcome when you're camping without access to electrical hookups.

Here's what you need to know about RVing with solar panels.

RV Solar Panels: The Basics

Solar panels for RVs work the same way that panels on buildings do. The panels contain photovoltaic cells that capture the sun's energy as sunlight and turn it into useable electricity to power your RV's battery, appliances and devices.

Here's how panels work:

  • Sunlight strikes panel surfaces
  • Electric current is created
  • Current runs through a charge controller
  • The controller distributes power to a battery system
  • Batteries produce DC (or 12-volt) power that can run RV lights, electronics, and appliances
  • An inverter transforms DC power into AC (or 120-volt) power to run "plug-in" appliances and devices, like coffee pots and toasters

How Many Solar Panels Does It Take?

The number of solar panels you need depends on the size of your vehicle and the power requirements of the devices in your RV. To determine how many and what capacity of solar panels your RV needs, consider the following:

  • The amount of energy you use per day in watt-hours (Wh)
  • How much energy a particular solar panel can produce

Most RV solar panels can produce from 100 to 400 watts of power. As a general rule, consider the following average consumption levels of these common appliances and devices:

  • Light bulb: Consumes 60 watts per hour, running 6 hours per day, for a daily total of 360 Wh
  • Television: Consumes 200 watts/hour, running 4 hours/day, for a total of 800 Wh
  • Microwave: Consumes 800 watts/hour, running .5 hours/ day for a of 400 Wh
  • Mini fridge: Consumes 200 watts/hour, running 24 hours/day for a total of 4,800 Wh

If you have an 800-watt system receiving five hours per day of direct sunlight, you'd generate about 4,000 Wh. That's enough to run lights, TV, and a microwave... but not a full 24 hours of the refrigerator.

Given the different power consumption levels of various appliances and devices, each situation is unique. You'll need to consider which devices and appliances you want to run (and for how long) when deciding how many solar panels you need.

Types of Solar Panels for RVs

There are three general types of RV solar panels. Each has advantages:

Mono-crystalline panels are made from single wafers of silicon crystal. They're the thinnest and most efficient in low-light conditions but cost more.

Poly-crystalline panels are a popular option. They're made from multiple crystals and produce a bit less power than mono-crystalline panels. However, they cost less.

Amorphous panels are the least expensive option. They contain layers of silicon film attached to a backing layer. They're highly efficient but larger and heavier than mono- or polycrystalline panels.

Benefits of RV Solar Panels

Installing solar panels on your RV offers several potential benefits. Of course, the most obvious is being able to run devices and appliances when you're camping off-grid or boondocking. Solar panels can generate enough power for you to camp comfortably. In most cases, you'll be able to run your lights, watch TV at night and make a hot cup of coffee in the morning without lighting up a camp stove.

You can also store power in special batteries, which allows you to use that built-up solar energy even on cloudy days or at night. Consider battery banks with lithium-ion batteries, which tend to be lighter, more compact and longer lasting than lead acid batteries.

Another wonderful benefit of solar? It's silent! When you're out in the wilderness, the last thing you (or anyone around you) wants to hear is a roaring generator. Solar power eliminates that terrible engine noise, allowing you and others to truly enjoy nature.

Plus, solar power is sustainable. It doesn't require constant fuel inputs, like a standard generator. And it doesn't generate exhaust or spew emissions into the atmosphere.

Of course, upgrading to solar panels represents an investment. But they also free you to stay in places that don't charge campground fees, while still enjoying the comforts afforded by power.

Are Solar Panels Covered by RV Insurance?

There may be limitations for renewable energy equipment coverage on your insurance policy. Before you begin installing RV solar panels, call your insurance provider to make sure you’re covered!

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