So you bought an RV camper and now you’re thinking about going solar while you travel. Before taking the plunge, you need to be sure you’re buying the right size panels for your RV camper. So what size solar panels will you actually need?
The panel size depends on the size of your RV along with the amount of power you plan to use while you’re gone. For example, a small retro-style camper isn’t going to use the same amperage as a large diesel camper. With that said, most RVers travel with 3 100-watt solar panels.
Trying to figure out the correct solar panel size can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to the RV scene. We’ve got some helpful hints and tips to make the process as stress free as possible for you.
How Does Solar Panel Energy Work?
Solar energy explained simply is using the sun’s energy to charge batteries. Solar panels act as the battery charger when they absorb the light given off by the sun. The energy creates electrical charges that move and help keep up the electrical flow.
Each panel has many solar cells, which are made of silicon. The silicon acts as a semiconductor with a positive and a negative charge, just like with a battery.
It’s easy to assume that the bigger the solar panel, the better it is but that isn’t necessarily the case. Unlike at-home solar panels, extra RV solar energy can’t be sold back to your electric company. Since the solar panel’s only job is to charge your battery, any solar energy harnessed is considered excess and therefore wasted.
Solar panels can be costly and heavy so buying the right size means you won’t waste money or manpower. So how do you know what size to buy?
1. Determine Your Power Needs
First and foremost, you need to look at how much power you’ll be using. Depending on the size of your RV, you’ll need anywhere from 120 to 360 amps of power. You’ll need to estimate your energy requirements by adding daily energy usage from all of your appliances. Appliance watt ratings can be found online or the appliance itself.
Once you find your energy requirements, you need to find the maximum power requirement for the solar panel. Add all of the watts together, then divide the sum by the battery voltage. This will give you the total amp return.
2. Determine How Many Panels You Need
Of course the size of your solar panel is important but so is the number of panels you need. Skipping this step risks buying the wrong size and shape panels which can lead to an awkward installation. Most solar panels are sold in increments of 10W, so with a little simple math, you’ll be able to calculate how many you’ll need.
For example, an RV that requires 400W of energy means you could buy four 100W panels or two 200W panels.
3. Decide Where To Put Them
You’ll want to have a good idea of the layout of your RV camper roof and where you want to install the panels. Once you’ve determined your power usage, the size, and quantity of panels, you’re ready to map out the RV roof and decide the best configuration for an easy installation process.
Additional Sizing Tips
- Use an online calculator to help you figure out sizing. Go Power has a helpful calculator that asks you a series of questions about your RV to determine what size you’ll need. They also recommend battery capacity and any extra equipment to prolong your battery life.
- Determine the layout of your roof before purchasing the solar panel you want. You’ll need to know where vent pipes, air conditioners, and other roof penetrations are because you won’t be able to install the solar panel in those areas.
- Keep weather and climate in mind. If you plan to travel during cloudy periods, having extra wattage will help make sure your RV and appliances run smoothly. It’s typically recommended to have at least 1200W of power for a standard RV travelling in cloudy areas.
- Bigger is only better in some cases. When talking about solar panels, physical size isn’t nearly as important as wattage amount. However, the bigger your RV battery the more power you can use.
- More people means more power. Take into account how many people you are traveling with. The more travel companions you have, the more energy you will need.
Will A Solar Panel Offer Enough Energy To Power An RV Air Conditioner?
Yes. However, to successfully power an RV air conditioner, you will generally need about 1,800W of solar panels. This may prove to be costly depending on your budget.
Can I Buy A Whole Solar Panel Kit?
Solar panels are available for sale by themselves or in all-in-one kits. All-in-one kits are handy because they come with all of the extra equipment you need to mount the panel on the roof of your RV. These kits are available online and at any big box hardware store.
How Many Watts Will A Typical RV Battery Need?
One 12 Volt battery will typically need around 300W of solar panels. Be sure to check the voltage of your battery before purchasing a solar panel to ensure you buy the correct wattage.
What Is Boondocking And Why Do I Need More Panels For It?
Boondocking, also known as dispersed camping, is using an RV to camp on public land. Boondockers typically camp in off-the-grid places for a few weeks at a time before refilling tanks. You need more panels for this simply because you’ll be in the middle of nowhere for multiple days (most boondockers camp for up to two weeks at a time).
Whether you plan on short-tripping or long-term travel, the size and amount of solar panels your RV will need matter. Buying the right size and wattage means you won’t need to worry about creating excess energy or wasting money on the wrong type. Nobody wants to deal with that kind of headache, especially with a big purchase like solar panels.