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Cross the Country With Solar Power

Jessica PirroAugust 13, 20193780

Travel the World With Solar Power

Solar-powered systems aren’t just for home or commercial uses, it can also be a good resource of on-the-go solar electricity users as well. Solar panels can now be used on RV’s. You can now take your solar energy where ever you go.

The Basic of RV Solar-Powered Systems

RV or motorhome solar panels work in the same way a residential solar panel installation operates: solar panels can capture the sunlight and convert it into solar electricity, and you can then use the solar electricity to provide power for appliances. You can then buy specialized portable solar panels designed to be easy to set up and takedown for RVs, as well as small or flexible panels that are designed for the solar panel installation on the RV’s rooftop.

One important difference between residential solar panels and RV solar panels is the size of the solar-powered system; the RV solar panel setups are typically designed to provide enough solar power to recharge either small devices or a few of the larger kitchen appliances, while home solar-powered systems are typically sized to cover almost all of your property’s electricity needs. You can always add more solar panels to your RV solar panel installation, but because RV’s have a small amount of roof space and energy storage capacity requirements, RV solar-powered systems are generally on the smaller side compared to a residential rooftop solar panel installation.

If you spend time camping and traveling in an RV, a solar panel installation can be a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and convenient way to use electricity on the go. Solar-powered systems generally require little to no maintenance and provide a dependable source of electricity while the sun is shining. For RV owners who mostly stick to campgrounds with electrical hookups, however, RV solar panels likely aren’t going to provide enough extra benefits to rationalize spending on them.  

How do Solar Panels Work for RVs and Motorhomes?

For the solar-powered system to generate solar power for your RV, you will need to set up complete with the following components:

- Solar Panels

- A charge controller to prevent overcharging your storage for solar-powered systems.

- Solar batteries to store energy (the most common are lead-acid or lithium-ion).

- An inverter to convert DC electricity to AC electricity (occasionally pre-built into the solar battery component).

You can buy all of the components separately, but some motorhome solar power kits are available to purchase that include most components, most of the time the kits don’t include the battery.

Should You Get a Solar Panel Installation on Your RV?

If you’re the camper who goes camping in remote locations without hookups, solar energy may very well be a great way to generate power as well as seeing some long-term savings when compared to gas generators. Over time, the cost of continually starting up and running a gas generator will exceed the investment required for solar-powered systems. You can expect your solar panels “payback period” to be under five years, but the actual time it takes to recoup your solar power investment is going to depend on the equipment your purchase and the amount of the sunlight that is hitting your solar panels.

But, RV solar panels aren’t ideal for every RV owner. If you spend the majority of the time when you go camping at campgrounds with hookups to the local power system and paying the associated fee. By getting a solar panel installation you may end up saving you end, but it may take a while until you break even. Also, if you only take RV trips a few timers per year, the upfront cost of an RV solar panel installation will most likely not be worth the few times that you can use the solar-powered systems.

Best Solar Panels for RVs

There are quite a few options that you have to choose from when it comes to buying solar panels for your RV. In the table below are some of the products that are specifically designed for RV setups, with several solar companies and solar power products that you can use.

Product

Cost

Panel Wattage (W)

Included Equipment

Renogy Flexible Solar Panel

$200

100 W

None

WindyNation Solar Panel

$160

100 W

Charge controller, connectors, mounting brackets

Renogy Solar Panel

$175

160 W

None

NewPowa Solar Panel

$100

100 W

None

You will need to be sure that you buy a charge controller or solar power inverter if the solar panels kit doesn’t include those components. Often, battery storage products have built-in solar power inverters and charge controllers.

How Many Solar Panels Do You Need?

Most of the solar panels for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of solar power, and full solar-powered systems maybe about 800 watts. What will be powered with that sort of solar panel installation for your RV? In the table listed below, we will assume that your RV solar panel installation is sized around 800 watts and you have an appropriate storage installation to take full advantage of the solar energy that comes from the solar panels.

Appliance

Power Consumption (W)

Daily Hours of Use

Daily Power Consumption (WH)

Lightbulb

60 W

6

360 Wh

TV

200 W

4

800 Wh

Microwave

800 W

.5

400 Wh

Mini-Fridge

200 W

24

4,800 Wh

What do these numbers actually mean? Looking at column four, you can see an example of how much solar energy in watt-hours running each appliance for the amount of time in a day that you may use. If you have an 800W RV solar-powered system that is in direct sunlight for 5 hours a day, you will produce approximately 4,000Wh of solar energy a day (5 x 800 = 4,000). According to our calculations in the table above, that’s more than enough to power the small devices like lights and TVs, but you won’t be able to run a refrigerator for an entire day.  

An important takeaway from this is that while a solar panel installation for RVs will be able to provide enough solar power for most of your small electronics and keep the lights on, you can’t expect to be able to run an unlimited amount of appliances. RV solar panels are a great way to keep the essentials up and running, but will most likely not be able to provide enough power energy-hungry devices for too long.

 

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