RV Solar Panels: A Guide for Options and Solutions

We’ve come a long way over the past decade or so when it comes to the introduction and development of renewable energy sources. 20 years ago, the term was almost unheard of, but now nearly every other person is using some form of renewable energy. Whether it’s solar power, wind power, or hydropower, the acceleration of renewable energy sources is moving at a substantial rate and is likely to continue to do so for many years to come.

One of the most popular forms of renewable energy is solar power and there are many reasons for it. It’s relatively inexpensive to set up a solar power system, it’s easy to maintain, better for the environment than other forms of energy, and will save you money on your energy bills almost instantly after installation. What more could you ask for?

Benefits of RV solar panels

An RV is a great way to travel. You get the freedom of being on the open road yet all the modern luxuries you just can’t do without right at your very fingertips. The problem is that running an RV can cost a fortune if you don’t have the right set up. One way you can ensure you’ll save money when traveling in your RV is to kit it out with an RV solar panel system.

As well as the cost-saving factor, with an RV solar panel system, you don’t have the worry about being tied to a campsite. Because you’re generating your own electricity you can be pretty much anywhere! Solar panel kits have come a long way since they were first developed. They’re easy to install, even easier to maintain, and will reduce your carbon footprint, too.

What makes up an RV solar panel system?

There are four main components of any RV solar panel system. They are:

  • Panels: Most solar panels are similar in size, but the material they’re made out of can differ. The most popular material used in solar cells is crystalline silicon. Using this material both polycrystalline cells and monocrystalline cells can be produced. While polycrystalline solar cells are cheaper to buy, monocrystalline solar cells are more efficient. There are also thin-film solar cells available that can be made into whatever shape you need, but they’re still not quite as efficient as crystalline silicon.
  • Solar charge controller: A solar charge controller is a necessary part of any RV solar panel system. Its place in the system’s setup is between the solar panels and the battery and its job is to prevent overcharging. The way in which it does this is by limiting the rate and amount of charge that goes to the battery. If the stored battery power falls below 50 percent capacity, it’s the charge controller’s job to shut down the system, preventing the battery from draining.
  • Power inverter: An inverter is what transforms the DC power harvested by the solar panels into AC power that can be used to run your appliances.
  • Battery storage (battery bank): Every RV solar panel system will need to have at least one battery in which to store all the harvested energy it makes. However, a battery bank is preferable. Typically, 12v RV batteries provide 70–90Ah of capacity. Most RVs will need to have 3–4 of these batteries onboard. This will provide around 280–340Ah and should be enough to ensure you don’t get caught short. Some people choose to use 6v golf-cart batteries instead of 12v RV batteries. The reason for this is that four of these in the right setup will provide 440Ah of capacity, which is far more efficient than the 12v RV batteries.

Cost of installation vs. savings

The initial cost of adding solar power to your RV will vary depending on a number of factors. The solar panel’s size, wattage, material, and make will all contribute to its cost. But, one thing that’s for certain is that you will see a saving in the long run. Once the solar panel has paid for itself in savings, it’s free energy all the way!

Options for RV solar panel systems

There are various different solar panel systems out there that are suitable for RVs. They will all differ somewhat in both setup and price, and so it’s best to have a rough idea of what you want before you go looking for you may find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed. However, the main things you will need to consider are:

  • Total panel watts needed: Once you’ve been through all the items in your RV you need to power and for how long, you can work out the total panel watts you need. Once you know this it’s simply a case of working out how many panels you can fit on your RV, ensuring that the total watts needed are covered.
  • Number of panels vs. size: This can be the tricky part. The higher the wattage the solar panel, the bigger in size it tends to be, so be careful! There are some that are smaller and more efficient, but you will pay much more for these. If you’ve added up your total panel watts needed and you can’t find any solar panels that will fit your RV and produce enough power, you may need to reconsider what you’re trying to run.
  • Price: It’s not always the higher wattage systems that cost the most money, so be aware. A complete solar panel kit for your RV will set you back anywhere from $500–$2000. It really just depends on what options you go for.

A word about installation

Installing an RV solar panel system is not as difficult as you may think. Most kits will come with instructions and you can usually find online guides to help. However, if you don’t feel very confident with installing the panels yourself, your local electrician will be more than happy to help for a modest fee.

Hopefully, you’re now feeling a little more knowledgeable when it comes to RV solar panel systems. All that’s left for you to do now is find the right kit for you, get it installed, and sit back and see the savings come rolling in.

 

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