rv solar panels

Solar Panels For RV: Complete Guide 2022

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You may have given solar panels for your vehicle some thought if you own an RV or campervan. Individual solar cells—tiny machines that can transform sunlight into energy—make up a solar panel. Direct current (DC) electricity is produced by solar panels, which are used to charge the batteries in your RV and store electricity.

Depending on your lifestyle and energy consumption habits, solar panels for RVs can be a good investment — but are they suitable for you?

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about RV solar panels.

What Are RV Solar Panels? 

The photovoltaic effect, where certain materials would generate an electric charge and current when exposed to sunlight, was first noticed by scientists in the 1800s. Attempts were made over the years to create “solar engines,” as they called them, but most had very low efficiencies. The ability of silicon, which is found in sand, to produce a solar panel that is significantly more efficient wasn’t discovered until the 1950s.

The invention of solar cells that could capture the sun’s energy and convert it into electricity was made possible by this initial discovery. The idea hasn’t changed over the years, but technology has.

A solar panel is a panel made of solar cells that gather energy from the sun and transform it into useful electricity that can be used to run homes, businesses, coffee makers, and yes, even RVs!

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How Do RV Solar Panels Work? 

Let’s say you have a few solar panels on the roof of your recreational vehicle. Solar panels on your RV receive sunlight when it is on the road or parked during the day, and the cells in the panels absorb the sun’s energy.

Circuits within the solar cells of your solar panels convert the energy absorbed by the sun’s cells into electrical current. A charge controller, which regulates the current flowing through the battery, receives the electrical current through wires.

However, you can also use an inverter to change that 12-Volt DC electricity into 120-Volt AC (alternating current) electricity, which can be used to power 120-Volt appliances like a coffee maker.

Your RV has several 120-Volt outlets, but unless you’re using a generator or connecting to shore power, none of them are powered.

When boondocking in the desert, you can harness the power of the sun by using solar panels, a charge controller, batteries, and an inverter. Voila! You can now use a 120-Volt appliance. = 120-Volt power at your disposal!

How Many RV Solar Panels Are Required?

RV solar systems typically offer a less powerful output than residential and commercial solar systems, which are built to power an entire home or establishment. This typically isn’t a problem because you don’t use as many lights and appliances in an RV as you would in a traditional house.

How many solar panels are required for an RV, then? It depends on a number of elements, including your energy usage patterns, the effectiveness of the solar panels, and the quantity of daily sunlight your home receives.

The first step in determining the size of an RV solar system is to calculate your average daily energy consumption. You must first make a list of the appliances you want to use, their power requirements, and the number of hours per day you plan to use them.

Let’s say, for illustration purposes, that you want to use your 500-watt microwave every day for 15 minutes. These numbers can be multiplied to find the amount of power required to operate your microwave for that length of time, which comes to 125 watts. Apply this procedure to each appliance or gadget.

You must multiply the size of your system by the number of hours of direct sunlight your panels would receive each day in order to determine how much electricity your system will produce each day.

Assume for the purposes of this example that we have a solar system for an RV that consists of four separate solar panels, each of which produces 100 watts, for a total system output of 400 watts. Additionally, we’ll presumptively be in a location that gets at least five hours of sunlight each day in a reasonably sunny environment.

This system will produce 4,000 watt-hours (Wh) of electricity each day, according to some quick math. You can compare this output to your energy requirements (as determined above), and then change the number of panels and wattage as necessary.

To give you an idea, a 4,000-Wh system will typically be sufficient to run lights and small appliances, but it won’t be able to handle the use of large appliances. In actuality, constant or excessive electricity use is not intended for even the largest RV solar panel systems. Consequently, solar panels are not the best option if you require a lot of power.

Related Reading: How Much Solar Power Do I Need for My RV?

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Components Of RV Solar System

Before we take a look at how you install a solar system, let’s review the RV solar system components:

Battery Bank

The brain of an RV’s electrical system is its battery bank. An RV cannot store power without a battery. Sun-generated energy is kept in the battery until it is needed by you. Your solar panels will replenish the battery bank.

But not every battery bank is created equal, and not every battery bank is suitable for the erratic solar system charge cycles. Lead-acid batteries are inferior to lithium batteries for solar applications.

Charge Controller

The charge controller is mounted inside the RV. Your solar panels are connected by wires to the charge controller, which in turn is connected by wires to your battery bank. The charge controller’s job is to regulate how quickly your batteries charge. In the case of an MPPT charge controller, the charge controller is necessary to operate the panels as effectively as possible and to prevent overcharging.

Inverter

Your batteries are producing 12-Volt DC electricity. The 12-Volt (cigarette lighter) ports in your RV as well as all 12-Volt gadgets and appliances can be powered by this. An inverter that converts 12V DC power to 120V AC power is required if you want to use 120-Volt AC electricity to power a coffee maker, laptop, Instapot, or anything else that needs AC.

Your AC appliances and devices will receive the converted (from DC to AC) power from that inverter, which you will mount inside your RV as close to your battery bank as possible.

RV Solar Panels

Your RV’s solar panels will be mounted on the roof, where they will collect solar energy in their solar cells and transfer it (via a charge controller) to your battery bank. Your solar panels can be mounted in a way that allows you to angle them toward the sun or you can have them lay flat.

How To Connect RV Solar Panels To Your RV Batteries?

Here are the steps to connecting your solar panels to your batteries:

  1. Install your solar panels on the roof of your RV.
  2. Install your charge controller as close to your batteries as you can inside the RV.
  3. Connect the wiring from the solar panels to the charge controller inside the RV. (If these are close to your batteries, you can run your wiring through a refrigerator vent or through the openings where the plumbing enters the RV. If not, you can drill a hole through the RV’s roof to run your wires through while making sure to fully cover and caulk any holes that were drilled.) The wires for this run should have a fuse or circuit breaker installed on them.
  4. Your battery bank and your charge controller should be connected by wires. These wires need to have a fuse installed on them that is a little bit bigger than the rated current of the charge controller.
  5. The system is now completely installed, but the charge controller and RV solar panels are not yet linked. Prior to making the final connection, it is crucial to check all wiring to ensure that the polarity (positive and negative) is accurate. When you are sure, connect the solar panels to the charge controller. To avoid a spark, it is best to carry out this activity at night or with the solar panels covered.
  6. This step is optional, but if you want to use 120-Volt AC appliances, you should mount an inverter inside your RV as near to the batteries as you can, and run the necessary wiring to that inverter.

Cost And Rebates

The type of panels you select and how much electricity you need to produce will all affect the overall cost of your system. More equipment will need to be purchased, raising the cost, if you require a lot of power.

An RV solar system kit is available in any price range, with options starting at around $150. However, you should prepare to spend more like $250 to $500 if you’re looking for a package that includes everything you need to get started. Although Renogy and Windy Nation are two of the most well-known brands of RV solar systems, there are many other high-quality choices to take into account.

By claiming the federal residential solar energy credit, which offers a 26% tax credit on solar systems purchased and installed through 2022, if your RV is your primary or secondary residence, you can save money on your solar investment.

Are RV Solar Panels Worthwhile?

If you regularly camp at RV parks and campgrounds where you will be paying for electrical hookups to power your RV and your various devices and appliances, then investing in a solar system may not be worthwhile.

A solar panel system is an excellent addition to your RV lifestyle, though, if you like to boondock, or camp in places without electrical hookups, like beaches, city parks, state parks, or the desert. Solar panels offer silent power, reducing the need for a noisy generator to recharge your batteries.

In terms of renewable energy, solar panels are a remarkable innovation! A solar power system liberates you as an RVer! With the incredible power of the sun being used to meet all of your electrical needs, it enables you to travel and stay anywhere.

Read More: Can You Put Solar Panels on A Mobile Home?

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