RV Solar Panels: Everything You Need to Know

Posted January 02, 2020

RV Solar Panels: Everything You Need to Know

Motorhome Valuation

1 million Americans live in RVs.

There is nothing quite like the adventure of the open road. It used to be that you could only venture so far from a campground with an electrical hookup. Those days are gone.

RV life, even in the most remote areas, has been revolutionized thanks to RV solar panels. Now you can enjoy the modern convenience of electricity no matter where the road takes you.

Keep reading to learn more about how you can take your adventures to new places while still powering your electronic devices with RV solar panels.

RV Solar Panels: The Basics

RV solar panels work the same way as residential solar panels. The difference between the two primarily comes down to size.

RV solar panels are designed to be portable and allow you to use sunlight to power your appliances on the go. For RVs, you can find special solar panels that are designed to be easily set up and taken down or you can opt for smaller, flexible panels that can be mounted on the roof of the RV.

While solar panels for your home are designed to provide power for all of the electricity using elements of your home and property, RV solar panels are a smaller system. With RV solar panels you can power small appliances and some larger kitchen appliances.

However, this should be plenty for an RV owner. The benefit of the smaller system is that it takes up less room and is easily portable.

RVs usually have limited roof space and energy storage capacity. This means RV solar panels are inherently smaller than their residential cousins.

If you're an RV owner who travels beyond the usual campgrounds that have electrical hookups, RV solar panels are a great alternative to access electricity.

They're good for the environment, convenient, and cost-effective. Whenever the sun is shining, and even when it's not, you'll have electricity. RV solar panels require little maintenance, adding to their convenience.

What You'll Need

In order to use RV solar panels to generate electricity, you'll need a setup with these components:

  • RV solar panels
  • Solar batteries (these allow you to store energy)
  • A charge controller (this ensures you don't overcharge your energy storage system)
  • An inverter (this allows you to convert DC to AC and is sometimes built into the solar battery
  • Wires and cables to hook the components together
  • Racking and mounting equipment (usually included with other components)

You may be able to purchase an RV solar panel kit that includes multiple components, but batteries are usually sold separately. Solar panel installation is often a DIY project.

When determining the type of setup you need, you'll want to evaluate how much power you expect to use. While a full system is around 800 watts, most RV solar panels are between 100-400 watts.

Larger appliances will use more watts than smaller ones. It's important to be aware of how much energy it really takes to power your appliances. Even a full system may not allow you to power a mini-fridge for 24 hours a day.

Remember that you won't be able to power an unlimited number of appliances. But, your solar panels will keep the lights on and power most of your small electronics, which is enough for most RV users.

Of course, the amount of power you generate will depend on your exposure to the sun.

Determining Whether RV Solar Panels Are Right for You

How do you know whether solar panels are a good investment based on your RV preferences?

If you enjoy spending time at remote locations or boondocking (spending time in dry camps that don't have power hookups) then RV solar panels could transform your RV experience. With solar panels, you'll have access to electricity anywhere you can collect sunlight.

This means you can travel further from electrical hookups and enjoy exploring the roads less traveled while still enjoying the convenience of electricity.

If you only use your RV occasionally or you spend the majority of your time at campsites with electrical hookups, installing a solar setup might not be worth it for you.

But if you are more adventurous and spend more time in your RV, going solar can save you money over time. For one, you won't have to worry about paying the campground's fees for using their electrical hookups.

If you use your RV frequently, the cost of starting and running a generator can add up over time. The cost to install solar panels is significantly less than the longterm costs of running a generator to power your RV.

The upfront cost of installing a solar panel setup is a worthwhile investment for many RV users. While there may be an initial payback period, this period doesn't last long. How quickly you will recoup your investment depends on what equipment you purchase as well as how much sunlight you collect.

Get Started Building Your Setup

If you've decided to make the switch to RV solar panels and take advantage of the endless energy supply right above you, you're going to need batteries.

Your energy storage capacity is only as good as the batteries you choose. Lithium iron phosphate batteries are an excellent choice for powering your electronics when you're off the grid. RELiON lithium batteries allow you to use 100% of their capacity, regardless of the rate of discharge. So, run all your electronics and know that you have ample reserves, even when you’re boondocking. Plus, they're safer, weigh less and have a much longer life.

Check out our product selection here.

If you have any questions or need help with your setup, feel free to contact us today!