There are many reasons people consider using solar power today — as experts call for global-warming awareness, some search for cost-savings on their energy bill, and others want to live off the grid. Whatever your reason may be for considering solar for your RV, we’ll walk you through the basics so you can decide if solar power is cost effective for your lifestyle.
Residential vs. RV Solar Panels
First, let’s touch on a few differences between residential solar panels and RV solar panels. While the basic function of the solar panels operate in the same way — the panels capture sunlight and convert it into electricity; you use that electricity to power appliances — the biggest difference between the two options is the size of the system. RV solar panels are usually set up to charge a few small appliances, whereas residential solar panels are set up to accommodate the entire property’s electrical needs.
Of course, you can always add additional panels to your existing panel structure with an RV, however you are limited in how many panels you add. Depending on the size of your roof (for roof-mounted solar panels) or your storage capacity (for portable solar panels), your space will dictate the amount of panels you can have, and therefore the amount of electricity you will have available to use.
How Does RV Solar Work?
According to Energy Sage, a company dedicated to making smarter energy decisions, there are four main components you’ll need in order to power your RV from solar energy. Those components are as follows:
- Solar panels
- A charge controller to prevent overcharging your storage system
- Solar batteries to store energy (common options are lead-acid or lithium-ion)
- An inverter to convert DC electricity to AC electricity (occasionally pre-built into the solar battery component)
Solar panels range in cost from $100 – $200+ per panel. While you can purchase these items separately, there are also some suppliers that create solar power kits for RVs that contain all or most of these components. That being said, you’ll want to check to see if your RV has a “Solar Ready” port — while the term “solar ready” varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, some include all of the plugs, wiring, and connections that are required, so you can simply plug and play. Either way, you’ll also need to ensure you have any necessary wires and cables to install your solar panels properly.
How do you Know What Size Panels to Get?
Most RV panels have a standard 100-watt capacity, so the question isn’t as much “what size” panel, but more so “how many” panels. To decide how many panels you’ll need, you should start by thinking about what you’ll need to power with solar energy.
Looking at the fourth column of the graph above, provided by EnergySage, you’ll see an example of how much energy common appliances typically use over the span of a day. EnergySage states, “If you have an 800W RV solar panel system that is in direct sunlight for 5 hours a day, you’ll produce approximately 4,000 Wh of energy each day (5 x 800 = 4,000). According to our calculations in the table above, that’s more than enough to power small devices like lights and TVs, but you won’t be able to run a refrigerator for an entire day.”
For more helpful information calculating your solar-panel size, check out the video below:
Now that you’ve decided what kind of solar panels you’ll need for your RV, and how many you’ll need to run your every-day appliances, there is one last thing to consider when calculating the overall cost of your solar-power panels — the installation.
In the event you plan to utilize portable solar panels, there may not be much setup involved, and typically instructions are provided in your solar-panel kit. However, if you’re looking to install solar panels to the roof of your RV for a more permanent solution, it’s imperative to ensure they are installed correctly. In fact, many company warranties will not cover the cost of a replacement panel if the panels were not originally installed professionally.
For more information on DIY installation, watch this short video below:
Deciding if Solar is Cost-Effective
After you’ve selected the products you’d need and uncovered any additional costs that might be associated with installation, you can finally decide if solar energy will be cost effective for your RV lifestyle. There are many mixed reviews; some people have issues with their panels, sinking a lot of money into installation and repairs, with very limited reward — especially if they typically use an RV-power hookup.
Other RVers who often go off the grid tend to love their solar panels as they help them power the electric necessities that they wouldn’t normally be able to use without a strong battery or generator. In the end, the only person who can decide if solar panels are cost-effective for your RV, is you.
However, if you have questions about our Solar-Ready RVs, or if you’d like any additional advice on Solar Panels for RVs, you can count on the experienced team at Juniata Valley RV to help you find what you’re searching for. Contact us today for more information.