How Much Solar Power Do I Need For My RV? We’ve Got The Answers For A Variety Of Classes

solar panel leaning on an RV trailer

If you’re wondering "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" then you’re probably also checking into the advantages of solar energy in your RV.

And if you’ve visited any campsites recently, you’ve probably wound up in discusses with others about the best way to power your RV. And maybe solar power came up, but before you delve into solar, you have to know how much power you need.

How Much Solar Power Do I Need for My RV?

So, you want to know, "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" First, you’ll want to factor in solar energy and generator power.

That's because you’ll still need a generator even if you use solar energy. Some appliances on your RV require a lot of power. For example, your air conditioner requires so much power that solar alone may not be able to handle it.

Therefore, you cannot entirely get rid of your generator. But you’ll be able to make your RV more energy-efficient if you do opt for solar power.

Solar panels don't give you direct power, but you’ll get plenty of battery-charged power if you add them to your RV.


What Is Solar Power?

Solar power is energy that comes right from sunlight. That means solar power is one of the best renewable sources of energy around. If you are running something off solar power, you won’t ever run out of energy as long as the sun hangs in the sky.

How is it collected?

Solar power collects through a scientific phenomenon known as the photovoltaic effect. Solar photovoltaics, also known as PVs, turn sunshine, or photons, directly into electricity. Electricity is also known as voltage.

A solar panel’s basic unit of energy is known as a solar cell. A solar cell comprises silicon wafers like what we would find in computer chips.


Solar cells collect and form solar modules. We then connect them into solar panels.


Can You Use Solar Energy To Power Your RV?

If you’re wondering, "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" then you’re probably also considering how you can use solar energy to power your RV.

However, using solar energy to power your RV might not work exactly the way you think it would. To explain the way solar energy works, you’ll have to think about your batteries.

Benefits of using solar energy in your RV

When you aren’t on shore power or your generator, your batteries are your primary way to obtain DC power. If you have a portable generator or one onboard your RV, it’ll power up your RV, but it will also eat your gas and make plenty of noise.

With a solar charging system, you won’t need to use your gas or bother other campers with disturbing noise when you charge your batteries.

Having a solar charging system on your RV will also allow you to charge your batteries for hours without attending to anything as long as the sun is out.

With a solar power system on your RV, you’ll be able to recharge your batteries quickly. Keep in mind: You cannot necessarily power-up your RV with solar panels. That’s a common misconception of a solar-powered system on an RV.


How Much Solar Power Do I Need For My RV: Calculations

If you’re wondering, "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" then you’ll want to know how to calculate how much solar energy you’ll need for the RV that you own.

Power used

Before you install a solar power system, you’ll need to know what you need. You don’t want to overestimate how many solar panels you’ll need, or you’ll waste money.

On the other hand, you don’t want to use too few solar panels, or you won’t wind up with enough power.

Remember, if your RV battery doesn’t last as long as you’d like it, you can increase your battery bank for more energy capacity. Before you do that, figure out your RV size and additional capacity for your solar panels.

You can calculate how much power you need for camping by actually taking a camping outing and measuring what you use.


Go camping and use your RV as you usually would. If you can make several camping trips to measure your average energy capacity before you install your solar panels, that’s even better.

Make sure you don’t use up your generator when you are measuring.

Then track the amount of battery you use with a battery monitor. When you're tracking your battery, remember that lead-acid batteries shouldn't discharge below 50 percent capacity or else you’ll shorten the lifespan of your battery.

Figure out how much power you are using per day. For example, say you’ve been camping for 2 days, and you notice your 200 amp-hour lead-acid batteries are now at 50 percent capacity. That means you’ve used 100 amp-hours in 2 days, or 50 amp-hours per day.

Also, if you discover that you can't get through one full day of camping without draining your battery, then think about expanding your battery bank. Solar panels won’t help you out much if you can’t store up the power you need.

Power stored

After you’ve figured out how much energy you are using each day, you’ll want to figure out how many solar panels you’ll need. The number of solar panels needed will depend much on the type of solar panels you buy. And that will dictate how many panels you need.

Solar panel ratings reflect their maximum efficiency. For example, a 100-watt solar panel creates 100 watts of power when the weather is perfect.

Since you know you won’t always have perfect weather conditions, the amount of wattage you’ll get out of your solar panels can vary depending on your location, time of year, and the amount of sunlight you can expect daily. `

The amount of solar energy can also vary depending on the type of solar panel. But you can still estimate how many solar panels needed. Most 100-watt solar panels can make about 30 amp-hours of power per day.

So, you can factor in how many amp-hours of energy you need. Then you can calculate how many 100-watt solar panels you would need.


For instance, if you have a 300 amp-hour battery, you’ll need about 300 watts of solar power. Solar panels don’t gather as much energy on cloudy days. So, it’s better to have a few more extra panels to cover this.


We recommend a 20 percent cushion when it comes to your solar power needs.


How To Utilize Solar Energy On Your RV

When wondering, "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" you’ll also want to know how the solar energy on your RV gets utilized. To understand that, we’ll break down the parts necessary for an efficient solar panel energy system.

Solar panels

Solar panels are made up of solar cells combined with solar modules. The solar panels use sunlight through the photovoltaic effect to create electricity.

Inverter

After the solar panels collect the energy, they send the power into an inverter. The inverter takes the DC energy from the sun and turns it into AC energy.

Electrical panel

Next, the AC electricity provided by the inverter goes into the electrical panel in the RV so you can power your appliances.

Electricity meter

The unused electricity immediately then becomes excess, which is measured by the electricity meter.

​The grid

Anything that becomes excess is measured by the grid on your electricity meter.


What To Look For In Solar Panels

When you are looking for solar panels, you have three options.

  • Mono-Crystalline: comprised out of a single crystal and tend to be made up of a thin wafer of silicon crystal
  • Poly-Crystalline: use many small crystals
  • Amorphous: thin-film panels that use think layers of silicon attached to a backing layer

Amorphous solar panels offer the most affordable option and do have an excellent efficiency rate. However, they are twice the size of your two other options.

So if you don’t have much space to put your solar panels on your RV, you’ll want to avoid amorphous solar panels.

On the other hand, if the size isn’t a concern, you can save a bit of money by using amorphous solar panels on your RV.


Alternative RV Energy Sources To Consider

Are you looking for alternative RV energy sources to work with your solar panels? If so, there are a few energy-saving tips we can offer you.

  • Use LED bulbs instead of regular bulbs
  • Keep your electronics unplugged when you aren’t using them
  • Replace older television sets with energy-efficient LED flat screens
  • Take shorter showers
  • Park your RV in shady areas to keep the areas inside and around your RV cooler when it’s hot outside
  • When it’s cold outside, use blankets or layer up to keep warm instead of using your heater

Save RV Energy With Solar Power

solar panel on a caravan

Image Source: Pixabay.com

When you’re wondering, "How much solar power do I need for my RV?" you’ll find that you’ll get more energy efficiency with solar power. That’s why knowing how to determine how much power you’ll need for your particular RV and how many solar panels to buy is so essential.

So, if you want a more energy-efficient RV, you can invest in solar panels today! Let us know how you use solar power in your RV in the comments below.

Featured Image: CC BY 2.0, by Jesse Wagstaff via Flickr.com


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