Solar panels for RVs, campervans and travel trailers: Everything you need to know

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If you own a motorhome or motorhome, you’ve probably considered investing in solar panels for your vehicle. Depending on your lifestyle and energy consumption habits, RV solar panels can be a great investment, but are they right for you?

Before you start shopping for solar panels for your RV, it’s important to understand the basics behind them, including what they’re used for, how to install them, and how to maintain them. We’ve answered each of these questions (and more) in this guide, so you can decide if RV solar panels are right for you.

What are RV solar panels?

RV solar panels work the same as residential and commercial solar panels except on a smaller, transportable scale. Once installed in your RV, motorhome or caravan, solar panels collect sunlight and convert it into usable electricity for your vehicle. In turn, you can use this electricity to power your RV’s appliances, lights, and outlets.

Without solar panels, you will need to rely on another source of power for electricity, such as a generator or a hookup for a campground. RV solar panels provide a convenient and eco-friendly alternative to these traditional energy sources, as they rely on renewable energy from the sun.

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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 offer a more modest outlet. This is generally not a problem as you don’t use as many lights and appliances in your RV as you would on a physical property.

So how many solar panels will you need for your RV? It depends on a few factors, including your energy consumption habits, the efficiency of the panels, and the amount of sunlight you will receive each day.

Calculating your average daily energy use is the first step in determining what size RV solar system you need. To do this, you will need to make a list of all the appliances you want to use, how much power they require, and how many hours a day you will use them.

For example, let’s say you have a 500-watt (W) microwave that you want to use for 15 minutes each day. By multiplying these figures, you can determine that you would need to generate 125 W of electricity to use your microwave for that amount of time. Repeat this process for each device or appliance you plan to use.

To find out how much electricity your system will generate per day, you must multiply the size of your system by the number of hours of direct sunlight your panels receive each day.

For our example, let’s say we have a RV solar system that is made up of four individual solar panels (100 W each), giving us a total system size of 400 W. We will also assume that we are in a reasonably sunny area. . that receives five hours of sunlight a day.

With some quick calculations, we can see that this system will generate 4,000 watt-hours (Wh) of electricity per day. You can use this output as a benchmark to compare with your power needs (calculated above), then adjust the number of panels and wattage accordingly to meet your requirements.

For reference, a 4,000 Wh system is generally sufficient to run small appliances and turn on the lights in your vehicle, but it is not compatible with the use of heavy duty appliances. In fact, even the largest RV solar panel systems are not designed for constant or excessive use of electricity. So if you need tons of power, solar panels won’t be the best option.

Setting up an RV solar panel system

There are three types of RV solar panels: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous.

  • Monocrystalline panels They are the most efficient (and most expensive) of the three, so they will generate the most energy in the shortest time possible.
  • Polycrystalline panels they are a little less efficient, but they are still a durable and reliable option.
  • Amorphous panels they are newer on the market. They are not as efficient as their counterparts, but their slim, flexible construction makes them easy to install.

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

  • Solar inverter, which converts solar energy from DC to AC
  • Charge controller, which protects the storage system from overloads
  • Solar battery, which stores the energy you generate

These components are often combined with solar panels, which is ideal for first-time solar installers. Or, 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 is not an option that we recommend. This is because these types of panels are larger and take up more roof space than RV-specific products, so you may not have enough room on top of your vehicle. Also, the voltage from the residential panels may not be compatible with the other components in your RV solar system.

Not sure where to buy? Online retailers like Amazon have a wide selection of solar panels and RV starter kits, along with customer reviews for each product. Stores like Camping World and Home Depot also have a decent range of options.

Instalation and maintenance

When you’ve found the right solar panels for your RV, it’s time to install them. Fortunately, RV solar panel installation is fairly straightforward and shouldn’t require a professional.

If you’ve purchased solar panels that need to be mounted on your roof, they should have come with instructions for doing so. This typically involves minor manual work, such as attaching the panels to your RV with mounting brackets. Amorphous solar panels are even easier to install because they come with an adhesive backing that you can quickly attach to your roof.

Don’t want to connect your solar panels to your RV? There are also briefcase-style portable solar panel assemblies that can be folded out and propped up to absorb sunlight when you’re not driving. When you’re done, you can store them inside your vehicle.

Once your system is up and running, maintenance should be minimal. When you use solar energy as a power source, you don’t need to worry about buying fuel or generating noise, as you would with a generator. Plus, many RV solar panels come with long-term performance warranties (typically 25 years), so you can be sure you’re making a smart investment.

Cost and discounts

The total cost of your system will depend on a few factors, including the type of panels you choose and the amount of electricity you need to generate. If you need a lot of power, you will need to buy more equipment, which will increase the price of your system.

You can find an RV solar system kit for any budget, with options starting at around $ 150. However, if you’re looking for a package that has everything you need to get started, you should expect to pay more than $ 250 to $ 500. Renogy and Windy Nation are two of the best-known brands of RV solar systems, but there are many high-quality options to consider.

If your RV is your primary or secondary residence, you can save money on your solar investment by applying for the federal residential solar credit, which provides a 26% tax credit on solar systems purchased and installed through 2022.

Are RV Solar Panels Right For You?

It’s hard to discuss the benefits of solar power, but RV solar panels may not be right for everyone. If you live in your RV and often take it off the grid (where there are no hookups for campgrounds), then solar power can be a convenient and eco-friendly alternative to gas generators. However, the investment in solar energy may not be worth it if you only use your RV once or twice a year or only stay in RV campgrounds or parks.

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