One of the best things about an RV is being able to get out into the sticks, far from other signs of humanity, and right into the heart of nature. However, if you like getting out into remote locations, you’ll also find your power drains pretty quickly. Fortunately, impressive advances in photovoltaic cells, alongside massive reductions in their cost, solar panels are now accessible to most people and are capable of providing more than enough energy for even the most energy-hungry RVs.
In this post, we will give you the lowdown on how to figure out how much solar power you need to generate in your RV, installing solar panels on RVs, and some top tips on other items that will come in handy when you’re parked up far from civilization, namely, a porta potty! Check out our ‘solar panels near me’ tool below to find your nearest trusted solar panel seller.
Table of Contents
- RV Solar Installers near me
- What’s so great about solar?
- What is the difference between solar panel types?
- How much solar power do I need for my RV?
- How many solar panels will I need to power my RV?
- How to install solar panels on RV
- Being covered when nature calls
RV Solar Installers near me
What’s so great about solar?
Well, for one thing, it is one of the cheapest and most abundant forms of energy out there. In fact, it takes just 90 minutes for enough potential solar energy to hit Earth’s surface that would be sufficient to cover the present demand for electricity for an entire year. Global capacity of solar power capture has not yet caught up, but it has “increased by a factor of 100 between 2004 and 2014” (Aaron Bastani, 2021). Butt what else is so great about solar?
Here are 5 great reasons you should tap into this amazing free energy source for your RV:
#1 Solar power benefits the environment
With the rapid changes happening to our climate becoming more apparent with every passing year and increasingly less time for us to take collective action to reduce carbon emissions, one of the most powerful moral arguments for getting solar panels is the fact that it is good for the environment. Moreover, with solar panels consuming more energy doesn’t have to be done at the expense of the planet, or come out of your pocket, as the sun provides more than enough solar for everybody.
#2 Solar power allows you to take your RV completely off-grid
The improved efficiency and reduced costs of solar panels are making it possible for people even in cloudier climates to benefit from this incredible resource. The amount of gadgets we tend to rack up in our RVs does require some serious power but given solar can provide this for free this won’t matter even if you are parked up far away from power for days at a time meaning you can power your RV whilst staying off-grid.
#3 Solar power is free
Whilst water can and has been privatized and monopolized, no one has yet managed to do this to the air we breathe or to the sunlight that makes life possible on this planet. This means, the more you can tap into it, the more you can reduce your dependence or expensive gas and grid-powered electricity. If you keep your RV at home, you can even keep it in a sunny spot and connect it up to your house supply as well as benefitting from energy savings when out on the road.
#4 Solar power can make you money
Since you can tap up solar to your home to save yourself money, you can also sell it on to the national grid if you produce more than you need. In this way, you can actually benefit financially from your solar panels and eventually make them a cost benefit purchase. Obviously, if you live in a sunnier place in the world, this will help you in your generation capacity!
#5 Solar power is quiet
Whilst generators can be great for powering devices, they are also incredibly noisy. If we’re out in the middle of nowhere trying to enjoy the serenity of nature, it hardly makes sense to block out the birdsong with a noisy generator when solar can do just as good a job. Moreover, solar power is silent, barely require any maintenance once installed and also doesn’t give off any nasty smells as some power generation can do.
What is the difference between solar panel types?
If you’ve spent any time looking for solar panels, you will likely have come across three different types of solar panels, monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and amorphous. Whilst at first glance their names might sound confusing, once you know a bit about them they make perfect sense and when picking a solar panel help you shortlist or remove them from consideration depending on your needs. To bring you up to speed, here is a brief overview of the benefits and pitfalls of each:
#1 Monocrystalline solar panels:
As the name reveals, these are made from a single (mono) cell. What the name doesn’t reveal, is that they are made from silicon crystal, are highly efficient in lower-light conditions, and are space-efficient. However, they are the most expensive option.
#2 Polycrystalline solar panels:
As you can guess, these panels are made up of multiple (poly) solar panels that contain smaller silicon crystals. The major benefit of these panels is that they are cheaper to produce than monocrystalline panels and still offer the same space efficiency. However, they are not quite as efficient, hence their cheaper price.
#3 Amorphous solar panels:
These cells are made from a thin silicon layer that can be attached to stiffer backing material. This is the cheapest solar paneling even though it is highly efficient. However, it is not space-efficient, typically taking up twice the space of poly and monocrystalline cells for the same power outputs which may not be the best choice for an RV with limited space.
How much solar power do I need for my RV?
So, we know solar power is abundant, but how much will you actually need to power your RV and the devices on board. A good way to find this out is to see how long it takes for your battery to drain when using power as you normally would without using any form of power generation. You can then work out how much energy you typically use each day at normal use by following through with basic calculations depending on the number of batteries used and their amp-hours.
Energy use = (number of batteries X battery amp hours) / number of hours taken to drain battery
However, given that you should ideally not drain a battery below 80%, as it can shorten battery life, and discharging below 50% can be particularly harmful, it is better to check first how much energy you use at normal use rates that brings your batteries down to 80% of charge. For example, if you run off 2 120 amp-hour deep cycle batteries and it takes 1 day for your batteries to have drained to 80% of their charge, then you can estimate that you use 48 amp-hours per day since 80% of a single battery = 96 amp-hours, leaving 48 amp-hours used, or 24 amp-hours use per battery, or an average of 2 amps used per hour.
This highlights that each day, if you are seeking to use your batteries optimally in the aforementioned scenario, you will need to produce at least 48 amp-hours of solar power per day. However, if it takes half a day to bring your batteries down to 80% charge, then you will need to produce 96 amp-hours of solar energy to ensure that the batteries do not drop below being 80% charged. If it takes you 2 days for your batteries to reach 80% then you just need to produce 24 amp-hours solar power.
How many solar panels will I need to power my RV?
Once you have figured out how much energy you use in a day, then you need to figure out how many solar panels it will take to power your RV and keep your batteries healthy. A solar panel with 100-watts of power can produce 6-amps per hour of optimal sunshine. Therefore, it will depend on how good the sunshine is, and how long it lasts, in terms of how much power an individual panel can produce.
Nevertheless, if we assume that at least 4 hours of peak hour sunshine is available, then 2 solar panels would be sufficient to cover 48 amp-hours per day, 4 panels would be needed to cover 96 amp-hours, and 1 would be needed to produce 24 amp-hours, correspondingly to the example above. This would also give you some leeway and would not require optimal sunshine every day, since even on the shortest day of the year, there will be daylight for much more than 4 hours and improvements in solar panels mean they can be effective without optimal sunshine.
How to install solar panels on RV
So, once you’ve figured out how many solar panels you’ll need, you’ll also need to get a few more gadgets to actually link them to your RV. A basic solar system setup will include:
#1 X number of solar panels:
For every 100-watt solar panel, you can expect at least 24-30 amps of energy per day.
#2 Tilting kit:
It is a good idea to have a tilting kit installed, so you can maximize your sun capture.
#3 A charge controller:
These can be 20 or 30 amp and either a PWM charge controller for a more basic setup or an MPPT charge controller for more sophisticated systems.
You will need 2 fuses, with one being an inline MC4 fuse.
You will need wires complete with MC4 connectors (these usually come with solar panels) and wires with ring connectors.
Ideally, you will install your solar panels on the roof of your RV although some people opt for the easy option of unfolding portable ones that can be hooked up adjacent to your RV when you want to tap into that solar powered energy. However, it is best to attach panels to the roof and use a tilting kit which allows you to tilt the panel whichever direction is best for solar capture. It also ensures they are easy to clean and you don’t have to store them in your RV and hook them up each time you need to catch some rays.
Your charge controller should be mounted inside the RV as they are not usually weatherproof. You also want it to be easily accessible so that you can monitor your energy draw using the digital display. It is also a good idea to install it near to your RV’s batteries so it is easy to hook your system up. The charge controller can then be connected to your solar panels using the MC4 connectors and your batteries using the ring connectors, and it is as simple as that.
Being covered when nature calls
If you’ve ever looked into how much to rent a full-size porta potty costs, then you’ll know this is an expense that only really works for big events and will not really be suitable if you are heading out into nature. However, fortunately, if you don’t have a toilet installed in your campervan you can find a number of portable smaller potty’s for sale and rent much more cheaply. To find out where to get these, check out our handy ‘Solar panels and porta potty near me’ map above.
Solar power is an incredible resource that is only recently being tapped into. Thanks to massive advances in the quality of solar technology, more and more of the solar energy hitting the Earth’s surface can now be captured and turned into free energy. As it is green and abundant, if we increase our links to this energy, we can use as much of it as we need without having to worry about our impact on the environment and we can save or even make money in the process.
If you haven’t looked into the benefits of using solar panels to power your RV, then now is the time to do it!