It’s an exciting time for the development of solar energy technology. Compared to their bulkier counterparts, modern solar panels for RVs are designed to be more compact and smarter. As a result, solar panels are more accessible to a wider audience than ever and are more adaptable in almost any situation.
RV solar panels have really taken off over the last few years, and so the technology is constantly improving. Although they do have their downsides, depending on whether they’re mounted or portable. We’ll explore what RV solar panels are, whether they’re a worthy investment, and also check out the pros and cons of solar panels for RVs.
Take clean, green energy with you on your next road trip.
What are Solar Panels for RVs?
Thanks to technological advancements, you can use solar panels on the go for your RV or campervan.
They pretty much work the same way a residential solar installation operates. They capture light from the sun and convert it into electricity.
You can buy portable solar panels for RVs that are simple to set up. Or you can choose small-scale, flexible solar panels made specially to be fixed to a vehicle rooftop.
Components for Fixed Solar Panels
There are many bits and pieces needed for fixed solar panels. Below is a breakdown of what’s required for a static RV solar setup:
Stops your RV solar system from overcharging.
Lead-acid, gel, or lithium batteries to store power.
Converts DC into AC electricity.
To hook up all your equipment together.
Attaches panels to the rooftop of your vehicle.
Are Solar Panels for an RV Worth it?
Certainly, an off-grid solar system is an eco-friendly and cost-effective way of maintaining power whenever you need it.
A roof-mounted solar system for an RV is great for those who travel extensively on the road each year.
Conversely, for part-time travelers who go off-grid, say, every other weekend or for a couple of weeks each year, roof-mounted solar may not be viable and could cost more in the long term. In this case, a portable solar setup would be a much more suitable option.
How many panels are needed for your RV or van depends on your electricity usage.
Think about your lifestyle when you go off-grid. Do you spend time as a photographer using heavy-duty cameras, drone equipment, and a laptop to edit your work? Or are you a foodie who loves to cook using an electric hotplate and blender? Perhaps you only need a couple of lights on and smartphones charged?
To determine how many solar panels you need for your RV, journal your power usage in wH. Make a note of the watts of each appliance you and your family/friends use and the average daily usage in hours.
To find out how much power your appliances draw out each day, you need to find the watt-hours being used for each one. To calculate, simply multiply watts by the hours of usage:
Wh = (W x Hrs)
An example of one person’s usage living day to day in an RV would look like this:
Power in watts (W)
Average Time of Use (Hours)
Total Daily Power Usage in watt-hours (Wh)
Determine how many solar panels are needed for an RV by totaling the number of watt-hours you use per day.
Usually, RV solar panels vary between 100 – 400 watts of power. For example, a 400W solar panel charging for 5 hours in the daytime would convert sunlight into 2,000Wh of charge for your gear each day. Double the panels up, and you have double the watt-hours.
Looking at the table above, solar energy is perfect for charging smaller appliances like lights, phones, and even a hot plate. Yet it would struggle to charge up a refrigerator for a whole day.