How Much Solar Power Do I Need for My RV? – Everything You Need to Know About Off-Grid RVing
You can add to the sense of freedom you experience on your RV adventures by embracing solar power. Not only will an effective solar power system allow you to take your RV to off-grid locations that do not have shore power hookups, solar power will give you the ability to enjoy the great outdoors in a much more environmentally-friendly way.
If you are interested in joining the ever-rising number of RV enthusiasts that have chosen to invest in portable solar power systems, we can help! We will start by explaining some of the many benefits of solar power for RVs, as well as provide some helpful tips that will help you get started.
From there, we will answer two of the most common questions that are asked about solar power for RVs – “how much power will you need for your RV and how do you go about sizing a system?”
If you are interested in exploring remote, off-grid locations on your next RV adventure, you have come to the right place!
Why Equip Your RV with a Solar Power System?
It almost goes without saying that having the ability to generate your own clean electricity from even the most remote locations can add to the sense of freedom you experience when you get behind the wheel of your RV.
A solar power system will allow you to convert sunlight into useable electricity that you can use to charge your RV’s battery, as well as power your appliances and charge your portable electronics. The following are just some of the benefits solar power can offer RV owners:
- An Enhanced Sense of Freedom – Solar panels give you the ability to generate power from any location, which means you are no longer limited to campground power hookups for your electricity needs. With solar power, you can explore off-grid locations that would otherwise be unsuitable for lengthy stays. This is why solar power systems are so popular amongst those that enjoy RV boondocking, or camping off the grid.
- The Long-Term Savings – Paying for a campground electrical hookup, or fuel for a gasoline generator can be very expensive. On the other hand, solar power is completely free, so relying on it for your electricity needs will save you money. A solar battery bank will also take some of the burden off of your RV’s own battery, which will extend its lifespan by up to 50%.
- It is Environmentally Friendly – Solar energy is an eco-friendly alternative to traditional grid power. It is renewable and emissions free, so you can feel like you are helping to protect the wilderness as you are enjoying it
- It Offers Effective Emergency Power – No matter where you are, solar panels can generate electricity that you can use during emergency situations. Whether you are stranded and your RV battery needs a boost, or you are isolated and just need to charge your portable electronics, solar power can bail you out during power failures and other emergencies.
- The Convenience Factor – Modern-day solar equipment is more compact and efficient than ever before, which means it will take up very little room in your RV and it is easy to set up each day. Not only is it easy to use, it is a much quieter alternative to traditional generators.
Tips for Using Solar Electricity to Power Your RV
You should consider a solar power system as an investment for your RV, so it is worth taking extra steps to get the most out of that investment. The following tips will help you choose the right solar products and build a system that works for your specific needs:
Consider a Solar Kit:
When you are just starting out with solar power, it can feel somewhat overwhelming figuring out which components you will need and deciding where you should even start. Solar panel kits can get you started and give you everything you need to start meeting some of your off-grid power needs. Not only are they convenient, kits tend to be less expensive than buying each component individually, so if you need everything, a kit can really save you money.
We encourage you to take a look at our full RV, Van, and Boat Solar Panel Kits. Each kit was assembled to give buyers all of the necessary solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and other accessories they need to get started. Remember, you can always upgrade and expand components as your experience and power needs grow.
Buy from Reputable Manufacturers:
Again, a solar power system should be seen as investment, rather than a cheap accessory. There are plenty of solar products on the market today that are made from low-quality materials, so they lack the durability required to be practical for RVing.
We only carry solar products from the best brands, so you will not have to worry about false promises and poorly made products. If you are on a budget and worry you will not be able to afford high-quality solar products, you will be relieved to learn that we carry a wide range of well-made, yet affordable products. For example, Renogy is one of the biggest names in the portable solar power industry and they have built a strong reputation for offering high-quality products at affordable prices. Shop the entire Renogy Solar Collection and find reliable solar panels, inverters, batteries, and more at budget-friendly prices.
Consider a Solar Generator:
Solar generators are ideal for RVing, as they act as a highly portable, all-in-one solar power station. The best solar generators contain internal batteries that can be charged using solar panels. The generators can then be used for everything from trickle charging your RV battery, to powering appliances inside your RV.
For more information about solar generators, read our Complete Solar Generator Buyer's Guide, which provides informative reviews of six of the best products on the market.
Make Efforts to Use Less Energy:
One of the easiest ways to meet your power needs with solar power is to conserve energy wherever you can. This will put less strain on your solar battery, so its stored power will last longer.
Simple changes can go a long way. Consider installing LED lightbulbs, unplugging portable electronics when they are not in use, replacing older electronics, like televisions, with more energy efficient models, parking under shade, rather than using plug-in fans to stay cool, and layer to keep warm at night, rather than running electric heaters.
How Much Solar Power Do You Need for Your RV?
The amount of solar power you will need to generate to meet your electricity needs will depend largely on the amount of electronics and appliances you plan on running.
For example, if a single 12V battery running at about 100Ah meets your current electricity needs, you could get away with just 300W of solar panels. Multiple 12V batteries running 400-600Ah would require closer to 600W worth of solar panels.
Calculate Your Specific Power Needs:
You can always use simple power consumption equations and calculators to get a rough estimate of your power needs. From there, you can use those estimates to shop for solar kits that are capable of generating that much electricity.
For example, if you know that you use a small television most nights for about two hours, you could estimate that you need to generate 180 watts per day for that purpose. You would run these equations for all of your electronics and try to come up with your daily power needs. This information will help you choose the correct number and size of solar panels you will need, as well as the type of charge controller and battery bank required for your RV.
The first step in figuring out what sort of solar power system you will need for your RV is to calculate your daily energy needs. Consider using our Ultimate Off-Grid Solar Watt Hour Calculator, as this simple off-grid solar load calculator can be used to add up your daily energy consumption and find the total in watts.
Our Definitive Solar Sizing Guide is also helpful in this regard.
Run a Test Using a Voltmeter or a Battery Monitor:
If you really want to get an accurate reading of your energy needs, you can always do a test run. Take your RV out and use a voltmeter or battery monitor to keep track of how much electricity you actually use on a typical day of RV camping.
Try not to alter your behavior and use your electronics the same way you would any other time you were connected to shore power. Once you have the numbers, you can size your solar power system accurately.
What About Running an Air Conditioner and Other Battery-Draining Electronics?
Certain devices and appliances require massive amounts of electricity. As you would expect, running these demanding electronics requires a much larger battery bank, as well as a larger solar array to charge that higher capacity battery.
For most air conditioning units, you would need a battery bank capable of storing at least 600Ah, which would also require solar panels capable of generating at least 1,200 watts of solar energy. While it is certainly possible to power an air conditioning unit with solar power, they do drain a significant amount of power, so they are not always practical if you are completely reliant on solar energy for your electricity needs.
For more information, read our Solar Power for RV Air Conditioners Guide.
Our another guide How to Install Solar Panels on an RV might be helpful, too.
It is important to remember that you do not have to immediately convert all of your electricity to solar power. Some people just use solar electricity as an emergency backup that they can rely on in the event of a breakdown, grid failure, or if they just want to spend a single night parked off-grid. There is nothing wrong with using shore power and solar power simultaneously, especially when you are just starting out.
If you ever have any questions about solar power for your RV, you can always reach out to us. We would be happy to answer your questions and recommend appropriate solar panel kits that would meet your energy needs!
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