How Much Solar Power Do You Need to Power an RV?

Get In The Know Before Your Big Adventure

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Is it even possible? Can you run an RV on solar power?

Off-grid RVers around the world know the value of solar energy to an RV. Being in the great outdoors with unlimited renewable energy sounds like a dream. However, advancements in solar power have made that a reality.

Through the use of solar panels equipped to the top of RVs, you’ll be able to receive direct sunlight and transform that into useable energy that can power your RV. Beyond being able to simply power the vehicle, you can also use this energy to power appliances and other features within an RV.

How It Works

Powering your RV through solar power isn’t as complicated of a process as you might expect. Although, there will be initial costs that may be a barrier for those who aren’t able to spend the upfront money.

You’ll need to purchase RV solar panels, but little else will be required. Installing these can be fairly complex, but doable yourself. If you’re feeling intimidated, fret not. Thousands of professional installers can help you attach the panels to an RV.

Typically, RVers will install solar power kits. These kits require having multiple solar panels installed along the roof of your RV. The number of solar panels required is important to note as it will determine how large of a solar panel system your RV will require. 

Thankfully, the EPA records the rating of different vehicles. Simply look up your RV and see how much energy will be required to power it. From here, you can meet with an installer and decide how large of a solar panel system you’ll need.

How Much Solar Power Do You Need to Power an RV?

The majority of solar panels that are designed for RVs are between 100 and 400 watts of power. A full system that is intended to power the entire RV may range close to 800 watts, or more. 

So, what does that mean? For his example, assume that your RV solar panel is 800 watts and you have the ideal setup and storage.

An 800-watt RV solar panel system will receive direct sunlight for about five hours a day, in a best-case scenario. This will produce 4,000 watts of energy per day with an 800-watt setup. 

Now, we must look at the power consumption of typical appliances within an RV. This includes lighting, TVs, microwaves, and mini-fridges.

Lightbulbs typically run around 60 watts, TVs use around 200 watts and mini-fridges will use the same. Microwaves take up an exorbitant amount of energy, usually between 800-1,000 watts. However, we can safely assume that you’ll be using the microwave for less than half an hour a day.

If you run the lightbulbs for eight hours a day, your TV for four hours a day, your microwave for half an hour, and your mini-fridge for 24 hours, you’ll use about 6,400 watts of daily power consumption. This is a little over the amount of energy that your solar panel provides, but the numbers can easily be adjusted to be within range.

This is especially true if you’re not required to use your mini-fridge. Without it, you’ll be well within range to power your entire RV and all of its appliances for a full day with a solar power system.

In the end, you may have to manage how long your appliances are running and how frequently you use them, but running an RV strictly on solar power is entirely possible. 

Other Options

Beyond the traditional installation of a solar panel system on the roof of your RV, there are a few more related solar power options. 

If you’re constantly off the grid, portable RV solar panel kits can become helpful where there are no other electricity options around. RV power products such as portable RV solar panel kits come in all shapes and sizes.

There are a plethora of options available on Amazon as well as some local retailers. 

Portable RV Solar Panels

Portable RV solar panels are a great option for those who love the camping aspect of being an RVer more than the traveling portion of life.

This is because portable solar panels won’t be necessary if you’re consistently staying at campgrounds that have electricity. Your needs will be easily met and it won’t be difficult to receive power.

Those who enjoy going ‘off-grid’ will find portable RV solar panels much more to their liking. You’ll be able to power your appliances in the middle of nowhere. 

Although, if your trip is short enough, you may not even require the portable solar panels as your leftover electricity may be able to carry you for a couple of days. 

Portable Solar Panels vs Mounted Solar Panels

At some point in your decision-making process, you’ll have to decide if you would rather have portable solar panels or mounted solar panels for your RV.

The largest factor is portability. However, you should note that portable solar panels will have a much lower maximum wattage. They top out around 200 watts. This roughly has of the maximum that a mounted solar panel can produce. 

If you require a large amount of wattage to power your RV appliances, roof-mounted panels may be necessary.

If living with bare necessities entices you, portable solar panels can be a great option. This is because they’re generally fairly user-friendly and you won’t be needing the extra power of mounted solar panels anyway.

If flexibility is the name of the game, don’t think that you can’t have the best of both worlds. You can incorporate a combination of both to keep your options open.

How Much Does It Cost To Put Solar Panels On An RV?

The amount that it costs to put solar panels on an RV is going to wildly vary depending on your specific circumstances.

Solar panels provide different watts depending on their quality. Generally, the higher the wattage it produces, the more expensive it will be.

For example, one panel that produces 100-watts of energy, without an inverter, will run you close to $500. 

However, 100 watts of energy simply won’t cut it. At a minimum, your RV solar power system should generate at least 800 watts per hour, if not more. 

The more electricity you consume daily, the more solar panels you’re going to need.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, installing three panels that produce 480 watts each may run you close to $3,000.

In the end, if you’re wanting a high-quality system that can produce enough energy to sufficiently power your RV’s appliances throughout the day, you’re going to be close to breaching $10,000, after all, is said and done. 

This will include labor costs for installation as well as parts.

Are Solar Panels For An RV Worth It?

To know if solar panels for an RV is worth it, you’ll have to think about several key factors.

First, think about how much you’re currently spending on electricity per month in your current setup. Take your monthly expenses and multiply that by 12 to get your yearly expenses. One more time, multiply that number by 25 to get the total amount of money you’ll be saving on bills.

The number 25 is used because solar panels will generally be good for around 25 years.

Once you have the amount of money that you could potentially save, you need to calculate the costs of installing a solar panel system on your RV.

If the total cost of installation and panels is lower than the amount you’ll save, it’s worth it.

You should also factor in that solar panel parts aren’t all good for 25 years. You may have to replace several parts around the 10 or 15-year marks, so factor in an additional cost of a few thousand dollars to be safe.

RV solar calculators also provide an easy way for you to find out how much your expenditures and savings will be on RV solar panels. 

How Do You Charge A Solar RV Battery?

Charging your solar RV battery isn’t a difficult task, but there are some things you should be aware of.

You’ll need a controller with more amps than your solar panels and battery combined to be able to effectively charge it. 

Here’s an example of how you know how powerful of a controller is required.

If you have 800 watts of solar panels on the roof of your RV and two 12-volt batteries, you’ll find that you need your controller to at least produce 33.33 of amps to power your batteries. However, you should aim for more than that to ensure that you can consistently keep it charged.

The formula for this equation is as follows:

800/(12*2) = 33.33

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