As warmer weather arrives, camping and RV season is kicking off. That means thousands of Americans hitting the road to travel, camp, and explore. That has some wondering: Can you install solar panels on an RV or camper?
The answer is most definitely. But there are some things to consider when deciding whether to install solar panels on your RV or camper.
Let’s take a look at those considerations, and determine if solar is the right choice for your RV or camper.
RV & Camper Solar Panel Setup
Solar panels for your RV or camper work pretty much the same as solar panels for your home. The solar panels collect the sun’s rays and convert them into electricity, which can be used for appliances and other electronic devices.
However, there are several differences between solar for your RV or camper and solar for your home.
First of all, a solar panel system for an RV or camper is much smaller. The roof space on an RV or camper is very limited, and this means fewer and smaller solar panels.
Also, the energy needs of an RV or camper are much less than that of an entire home. Most of the time, only a few appliances or electronic devices will be used at once, so not as many solar panels are necessary.
And while most RVs and campers can hook up to electricity onsite, some owners prefer to go off-grid (also known as boondocking), which opens up a wider range of excursion options. This will require a sufficient battery backup system to store energy for future needs.
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How Does Solar For RV & Campers Work?
To generate power for your RV or camper, a solar panel system needs to have several components working together. These are as follows:
- Solar Panels: These will generate the power for your RV or camper.
- Charge Controller: The charge controller prevents your batteries from overcharging, which could cause damage to the batteries and other components.
- Solar Batteries: Batteries will store the energy produced by your solar panels for future use. Batteries typically come in the form of lead acid or lithium-ion.
- Inverter: The inverter converts the DC electricity produced by the solar panels and stored by the battery into AC electricity.
Portable & Flexible Solar Panel Options For RVs & Campers?
While some RV and camper owners install solar panels on their roof, others prefer to install portable or flexible solar panels. These have both advantages and disadvantages.
Portable solar panel systems can be a great option for RVs and campers that do not have adequate space on their roof for solar panels. Portable solar panels can be mounted on a structure that can be moved around the RV or camper. This provides the ability to park in the shade while still producing energy, and also allows the solar panels to be moved to track the sun throughout the day.
Flexible solar panels have the same benefit, but they also take up less space and weigh less. Flexible solar panels can also be mounted on more locations on the RV or camper since they are thin, flexible, and don’t weigh as much as regular solar panels.
Both portable and flexible solar panels have the disadvantage of needing storage space when not in use, and flexible solar panels are normally less efficient than regular solar panels.
How Many Solar Panels Does An RV Or Camper Need?
When determining how many solar panels you will need for your RV or camper, the first step is to determine how much energy you use.
To find out how much energy you use, check the energy consumption of the appliance and electrical devices you plan on using. This can normally be found on the appliance itself, or you can use Energy Star’s website to find out typical energy usage per appliance.
Here are a few examples of typical RV and camper appliances and their energy consumption:
From this example, we can see that the average daily energy usage of this RV or camper would be 3,636 Watt Hours (Wh). We find this by adding up all the daily consumption totals for each device. For simplicity, we will round this number up to 4,000 Wh.
Now that we know the average daily energy consumption, we can estimate how many solar panels would be needed to power the RV or camper.
Solar panels can produce a range of power from as low as 100 Watts to up to 400 Watts or more. And we can find the daily power production of those panels by multiplying the peak sun hours by the wattage of the panels. You can find the peak sun hours of your area with this map from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
For instance, if we have a 200 Watt solar panel and 5 hours of peak sun hours, we could expect a daily production of 1,000 Wh from that one solar panel (200W x 5 hours).
Putting it all together, if you were needing to power appliances consuming 4,000 Wh per day, and you were using 200 Watt solar panels with 5 hours of peak sun hours, then you would need 4 solar panels to meet your energy needs [4,000 Wh / (200 Watts)(5 hours)]
This calculation can be simplified in the following equation: (average daily energy consumption in Watt hours)/(energy production of solar panels in Watts)(peak sun hours)
Now, you can make the necessary calculations and adjustments to your numbers to find the right balance for you. If you are consuming more energy than you can produce, you can work on consuming less energy, using solar panels that produce more energy, using more solar panels, and/or moving to an area with more peak sun hours.
Best Solar Panels For RVs & Campers
There are a wide range of solar panel options for RVs and campers out there. Some are portable, some are flexible, and some come in kits complete with everything you need.
Here are the top 5 solar panels and solar panel kits for RVs and campers in 2021.
Should You Install Solar On Your RV Or Camper?
The ability to provide your own power while exploring the country in your RV or camper is an appealing thought. And with decreased solar and battery prices, along with improved technology, going solar has never been easier.
And for those interested in boondocking (dry camping without power hookups), solar is even more appealing. With solar, boondockers can extend the range of their camping expeditions and still have the ability to use their appliances and electronic devices.
And with solar, you can cut back on your reliance on gas or diesel generators, which are noisy, pollute the air, and require regular maintenance. Not only can this improve your experience in nature, it can save you money in the long run.
However, for RV and camper solar to truly pay for itself, you will have to use it on a regular basis. If you only use your RV or camper a few times a year, or you normally rely on power hookups at a campsite, then solar might take a much longer time to pay off. So it’s important to weigh both the benefits of RV and camper solar before choosing to install your solar panels and batteries.