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Solar Calculator for RV

By Benjamin Strusnik November 08, 2022

Deciding to go solar is one of the best energy decisions you can make. There are a ton of advantages associated with solar energy.

Deciding to switch is the easy part but understanding specific solar calculator equations can be a bit daunting for solar newbies, especially when wanting to power smaller systems, such as an RV.

Many solar guides tend to overcomplicate these simple-to-understand calculations and it’s enough to scare people away from powering their homes with sustainable solar energy. They’re often caught up in the theory of these calculations, rather than the solution.

Thankfully, we will show you how easy it is to calculate the required solar energy for your RV, which can additionally be used to calculate other systems and devices as well.

Once you get the hang of these calculations you will be able to implement larger-scale systems such as your home or business. You will even be able to scale it down and calculate the solar energy required for specific electrical devices.

The following guide will tell you everything you need to know about solar calculations for RVs.

So, sit back, and let’s start our journey in the understanding of renewable clean solar energy.

List Your Appliances

solar calculator rv

Before we get into how to calculate the solar energy needed for your RV, you first need to tally up everything that your solar panel will be powering.

You cannot simply install any number of solar panels without understanding the electrical power requirements of your RV and the full sun hours per day.

All you need to do is list everything appliance that you use through a 24-hour and the amps that will be used in the same 24-hour period.

It can be a bit of a headache to calculate each appliance, so we have made it easier for you by giving you an estimate of the average RV owners' most utilized appliances.

Most RVs have 12-volt televisions that are usually running for about 3 hours or less in a day. Using a TV for this period equates to approximately 0.5 amps per day.

Your lights and fan will only be utilized during the night, which is typically around 6 hours per day. If you are in a cooler area, then you can scrap the fan from this example. Lights and other small appliances like ceiling fans will use about half an amp.

Some appliances might require a lot more amps if you use them for prolonged periods. A microwave for example can use 8 amps per hour, but thankfully we don’t typically use them that often.

Total Required Amps

The total amps of your system represents its current capacity. This value isn’t cumulative like wattage is. It’s more a representation of how large the stream of charged particles that carry electrical current is that flows through the system.

Think of it like water. The wattage of the system is how big the reservoir is. When you turn on your faucets, the water has to flow through the pipes the pour into your sink. How wide the pipes are—how quickly the water can flow—is the current.

If you’re trying to power two appliances at once, you need to make sure your system has the current capacity to allow for this. If not, the amount of power each appliance will receive isn’t going to be enough to run properly. 

It’s like trying to take a shower with a garden hose on: neither is going to get enough water.

Portable solar power stations, like the ROCKPALS 500 Solar Generator have a current of around 6 amps. This is normally more than enough for most RV owners, but you may need a large system if, for example, you’re traveling as a large family or you have more appliances than usual.

rv solar calculator

Choosing Your Solar Panel System

The final step is the most rewarding, especially after doing all that math to work out what system works for you. If you have a solar off-grid system, then you can use an off-grid solar calculator method. It follows the same calculations as the method listed previously.

Your total weekly amps will determine which system is suitable for your style of living. If your peak amp draw is around 5 A, you should find a system that slightly exceeds this total.

rv solar panel size calculator

You always want to make sure that you select a panel that is slightly bigger just to ensure that it’s never at full capacity. An overcharged system results in damage, decreasing the efficiency of your solar system over time.

If you’re in the market for a top-of-the-range solar panel system suited for RVs then visit Shop Solar Kits. We have everything from custom solar kits to solar batteries.

Additionally, to save you the headache of finding an online solar calculator, we can evaluate you and give you the best solar solution that is perfect for your RV electrical requirements.

How Many Panels Are Needed

The number of panels needed is dependent on your watt hours per day. Previously, we worked out the weekly amps, which we needed to find the size of our overall system. However, to determine how many panels are needed we are going to need the watt-hours.

rv solar panel calculator

To determine what hours per day, you simply take your daily or weekly amp hours and multiply it by the voltage of your battery.

Typical RV solar batteries have a voltage of 12 volts.

Let’s use the example above for the weekend camper. You can gather this information in the same way you calculated your peak amp draw. Simply round up all your appliances and look at the label that tells you what the wattage of each one is.

Unlike amps, watts are cumulative over time. This means that you need to tally up the total power you’re going to use the whole time you’re away. This unit is given in watt-hours (Wh). A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is one thousand watt-hours.

The number of panels also depends on the space available on your RV's roof. We recommend measuring out the roof of your RV before purchasing any number of panels.

You can find a wide range of solar panel sizes on Shop Solar Kits. We have solar panels suited for smaller RV systems as well as more powerful solar panels that can power your entire home.

Watt Calculation

The average RV owner uses about 1 kWh of power per day. Obviously, this depends on many factors, so yours is likely to be different, but we’re going to use this number to show you how to calculate the number of solar panels you need.

A single 200 W solar panel produces about 600 Wh per day under ideal conditions. This isn’t enough to run a 1 kWh RV for a day, so you’re going to need at least two to give you enough power and allow an extra 200 W for margin of error.


Number of 200 W Solar Panels

Electricity Produced per Day

2

1.2 kWh

5

3 kWh

10

6 kWh

12

7.2 kWh

15

9 kWh


Using A Charge Controller

Charge controllers are often used in solar panel systems to prevent the solar battery from overcharging. However, some charge controllers also come with an incredible feature that tells you how much power you would typically use from day to day.

You can use this feature to upgrade or scale down your solar panel system, especially if you find that you need much less solar energy to power your RV, but have a larger system installed.

A charge controller is not necessarily needed for RV solar systems, but it will help you in calculating your energy needs, as well as extend the life of your solar panel system.

What Will It Cost

Generally, small solar panel systems won’t cost you too much money and the benefits significantly outweigh the initial fee, not to mention that you can earn cash back through government tax incentives.

If you want to know how much you could potentially earn back, then you should try a solar return on investment calculator or a solar payback calculator.

You can put together an RV solar system from anywhere between $500 to $10,000 depending on what your budget is.

solar panel calculator rv

You don’t need high-end solar equipment to power an RV, especially if you are only going to use it for a short time. A small system is more than enough to run your RV system and you might even have enough to power additional appliances.

Conclusion

Solar energy systems have come a long way since they first appeared on the market many years ago. These days you get portable systems that you can take with you while traveling and ones powerful enough to power entire businesses for hours.

Solar technology is continuously evolving, and smaller systems can power a lot more than they were previously able to.

RV smaller systems are becoming increasingly popular, especially in the lives of American backpackers and campers.

If you are an avid camper and want to take electricity with you on your camping travels, then you should invest in a solar system for your RV.

Now you even have all the tools and calculations to determine the size of the panel you need to save you the headache of doing your research.

Time to make the sustainable switch to solar.

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