Solar panels on top of a motor home
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How Much Solar Is Needed To Run An RV? 

Are you trying to calculate how much solar is needed to run an RV? First, it is essential to calculate the amount of energy you consume when going out for extended periods. 

Most RVs need between 300 to 1200 watts of solar panels to run all the appliances present in a camper or recreational vehicle. However, an RV with a few devices can consume as little as 300 watts requiring only two 200 watt solar panels

The wattage needed in a single RV depends on how many electrical devices you use. This article will tell you how to estimate how much solar your RV needs. 

How Much Solar Power For Rv Living Do I Need? 

Many variables to consider when assessing how much power is needed, such as lifestyle and types of appliances. 

You have to calculate how many batteries you need based on what you predict you will consume. You have to figure out how many solar panels you need to keep the batteries full, so you always have electricity.

So you have to:

  1. Make a list of appliances you need 
  2. Calculate how much they consume
  3. Figure how many batteries you need 
  4. Calculate how many solar panels you need to keep the batteries full

If you have only basics things running, you could get away with one battery and two 200 watts panels. These essential items might include:

  • ceiling fans
  • water pump
  • water heater
  • LED lights
  • small refrigerator
  • charging devices like phones or laptops
  • television

You can expect a 12 volt RV battery to last up to 2 days with one charge if used only for the most fundamental things. Being attentive not to leave the lights turned on and turning off unnecessary electrical devices can extend this time. 

In this case, you can couple a 12v battery with two 200 watts of solar panels, and it will be enough to power the RV. However, suppose you are going out in an RV with the family and are using a lot of appliances. In that case, the energy consumption can reach a very high level.

If you expect to consume a lot, you could get two batteries and 600 to 1200 watts of solar panels (1200 watts only if you want to stay safe). 

Using solar panels to camp in areas without other power sources

Establish Your RV Electrical Consumption

The first thing to do is establish how much electricity you will consume when you go out with your RV. 

Here is how much each electrical device or appliance is consuming on average:

Electrical DeviceWatts (W)Expected usage in hours each day (h)Watts per hours consumed daily (Wh)
Phone Charger6318
TV902180
Coffee maker6500.25162.5
Electric blanket50021000
Water heater15000.2750
Blender5000.150
Laptop904360
Mobile phones (4)724288
Portable Fridge4024960
Microwave8000.4400
Washer 6001600
Toaster8000.25200
Ceiling fan16464
Dehumidifier 130022600
Furnace150023000
Tot 10632 Wh

It is unlikely you will get all those devices into your RV. Still, these numbers can give an idea of the expected energy consumption. Remember that those numbers are indicative, and you have to check each electronic device at the moment of purchase.

It is necessary because each product is built by a different company, and there may be variations in energy consumption. For example, a toaster from one brand may consume a little more than a similar one of another brand.

Suppose you need 11000 wh (watts per hour) daily, and consider that a 100 watts solar panel can produce 400 watts hours (wh) per day. In that case, you need 3 to 4 such panels for your RV if you use all of the above appliances. 

How Much Power Can a 100 Watt Solar Produce? 

Now that you have calculated how much energy you need, it is necessary to estimate how many panels you need to charge your batteries. Of course, other considerations are to be made, such as the length of exposure to the sun and the weather.

Weather conditions and the length of exposure to the pick hours of sunlight can affect the quantity of energy produced. Typically, you can expect a 100-watt solar panel to make 400 (Wh) each day, considering 4 hours of exposure to direct sunlight. 

In addition, solar panels are not generating 100% of their energy output capacity. If the manufacturer sets the maximum efficiency at 100 watts, it is very unlike that a panel will produce that much. 

The reasons are several: 

  • Dirty panels are less efficient, and often no one cleans them
  • The natural resistance of the materials
  • Roof-mounted RV panels lie flat (panels can generate more energy if set at a 30-45 angle degree)

Should You Get Portable Or Roof-Mounted Solar Panels?

To get the required solar energy for the RV, you need to get solar panels and a battery bank to store the electricity. Solar panels can be roof-mounted or portable. While roof-mounted solar panels do not require extra work or attention, portable panels also have advantages. 

For example, portable panels allow a lot of flexibility in parking. If you have them mounted on the roof, you need to park precisely under the sun. 

With portable panels and a long enough cable, you could get your RV in a cool place, while the panels will keep on charging under the sun a few feet away.

Portable panels are also easy to install, and you can put them at an angle to more effectively charge your batteries. In addition, portable panels cost much less than roof-mounted panels, and getting an RV set up to work on solar energy is faster and easier. 

There are still things to consider when considering portable solar panels for an RV. First, you need to store them somewhere when you are not using them, and you have to park to charge your batteries, while roof-mounted panels can work while driving. 

You have to set up the portable panels each time you park and allow them the time to charge the batteries, and it is a lot of extra work.

Frequently asked questions 

Are RV Solar Panels Suitable For You?

Rv solar can be a necessity, especially for those traveling across the country and staying for many days far away from any power source. Solar energy is convenient and renewable and always available. 

Once installed, you can use them as much as possible and never run out of power. The investment is suitable only for those using the RV extensively. 

What To Consider When Buying An RV Solar Panel System?

When you buy RV solar panels, you have to consider the amount of energy you need to power all your electronics, the panels’ efficiency, how much energy they can generate, and the costs. The quality of the panels and how long they will last are essential to consider.

Do You Need Batteries For Your RV Solar Panels?

Batteries are required for your RV solar panels if you want to have electricity during the night or when the weather doesn’t allow them to produce electricity. Batteries will enable an RV to run for at least two days without sun. 

Having solar panels without batteries is not convenient since you may lose a lot of energy generated by the panels and have no chances to use them later. 

Sources

  1. Buildinggreen, “What is a watt anyway”,https://www.buildinggreen.com/news-article/what-watt-anyway-understanding-energy-and-power-metrics, accessed March 28, 2022
  2. Boondockers Bible, “ How many solar panels I need for boondocking”, 

https://www.boondockersbible.com/knowledgebase/how-many-solar-panels-do-i-need-for-rv-boondocking/, accessed March 28, 2022

  1. News.energy, “ RV solar panels: are they right for your?”, https://news.energysage.com/rv-solar-panels/, accessed March 28, 2022
  2. Gp electric, “Portable vs Fixed solar panels”, https://gpelectric.com/portable-vs-fixed-rooftop-solar-panels/, accessed March 28, 2022
  3. Portable solar expert, “How many kWh does a 100w solar panel produce?”, https://www.portablesolarexpert.com/how-many-kwh-does-a-100w-solar-panel-produce/, accessed March 28, 2022

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