How much solar power do I need for my RV?
One of the most asked questions from RVers is: how much solar power do I need for my RV or camping trailer?
In this post, we’ll discuss solar power needs for RVs. A common misconception is that RVers need a lot of solar panels and a big expensive solar system to power their RV or camping trailer. While at times that may be true, it’s not the only solution.
That’s because, in many situations, all you need is a way to charge cell phones and other USB-powered devices. In other words, it might not be necessary to have an expensive solar system that takes care of your entire RV or camper trailer needs.
The key to choosing an appropriate solar system is knowing how much power you’re going to use. For instance, if all you want/need is a few hours of cell phone charging, then it’s likely that powering up a laptop won’t be necessary (though there are options for that as well).
Or if you need just enough power to run a fan or small space heater, it is likely that you won’t need to run your refrigerator, microwave oven, and TV all at the same time.
This is especially true if those devices are 12 volt systems (versus 110-120 volt AC). So knowing how much power you’re going to use will help you determine the right amount of solar power you need. Here are a few different scenarios to give you an idea of what we’re talking about.
Scenario 1: RV Camper Trailer with LED lighting, Mini Refrigerator, and Television – 50 Watts
In the first scenario, our camper trailer has LED lights (you can read my post on solar power for LED lights). It also has a small refrigerator (around 50 watts) and a TV that uses about 100-150 watts depending on what’s running. Total power requirement: 250-300 watts.
Scenario 2: RV Camper Trailer with LED Lighting, Mini Refrigerator, Television, Fan – 300 Watts
This situation is the same as the first scenario except we’ve added a small space heater that uses about 300 watts. Total power requirement: 750-800 watts.
Scenario 3: RV Camper Trailer with LED Lighting, Mini Refrigerator, Television, Fan and Microwave – 800 Watts
This situation is the same as the second scenario except for our camper trailer has a microwave oven that adds another 500-600 watts to the requirement. Total power requirement: 1,250-1,300 watts.
Scenario 4: RV Camper Trailer with LED Lighting, Mini Refrigerator, Television, Fan, Microwave and Laptop – 1500+ Watts?
For this situation, we’ve added the requirement to run a laptop computer. The power requirements of laptops vary but are typically around 500-800 watts (depending on the system). This is still significantly less than running an air conditioner or other high-wattage household appliance. If using the laptop is critical for your lifestyle, then you should consider purchasing a solar panel kit that provides a way to charge laptops.
Scenario 5: RV Camper Trailer with LED Lighting, Mini Refrigerator, Television, Fan, Microwave, Laptop, and Air Conditioner – Thousands of watts?
For the final scenario we’re adding an air conditioner. As you might expect, the power requirement of air conditioners varies depending primarily on the state of charge. In climates where air conditioners are not needed for months at a time (such as my location), the power requirements can be lower than expected. However, in places where they’re used daily, such as during summer, battery banks need to be larger to absorb the extra power draw. If you plan to run an air conditioner, it’s important that you carefully select your solar system given the high amount of power needed.
How much solar power do I need for my RV?
Solar Panels on Your RV or Camper Trailer Roof: These panels require direct sunlight to function properly and produce any electricity. If your campground is shaded for most of the day, you will need a good amount of solar panels to make up for it. However, if you can park in a sunny spot and set your rig up so that the panels are facing south (this is important because southern-facing panels will get more sun) then these will work great! RVers could go on a 3-month trip by simply parking their trailer/RV in the sun and using the free solar energy to do all their cooking, running appliances, and even charging a battery bank. This is often easier said than done as most campgrounds are situated in shaded areas because of trees or other structures. Again, it depends on where you go!
What Size Solar Panel do I need?
This depends on how much electricity you use and how long you plan to stay in one place. The best way to gauge this is to ‘piggyback’ off someone else’s already existing system (if they have one). If you don’t know anyone with solar power then start small and then add more panels as you go. Remember, the easiest thing about solar energy is that once your initial investment has been made it is free to use!
Note about the Inverter: If you are planning on using a battery bank of any size (this isn’t just for solar-powered RVs, it also applies to anyone with a cabin or who lives off-grid) you will need an inverter. This is an electrical device that converts the direct current (DC) from your batteries into alternating current (AC), the type needed by most appliances.
How to Choose Your Solar Panel: There are different types of solar panels (you can read a bit about them here) but they all serve the same purpose and have the same basic components: a single, crystalline silicon cell that collects sunlight and creates a charge. The efficiency of these cells has improved greatly in the last couple of decades; however, they still have room for improvement. Namely, there is a difference between monocrystalline solar panels (the best kind) and polycrystalline solar panels (they are cheaper but not as efficient).
Polycrystalline – These solar panels are made from silicon-based cells that are created by bonding many small crystals together to obtain a single, giant crystal (hence the name). They are more affordable and have slightly lower efficiency than monocrystalline.
Monocrystalline – The highest quality solar panel available today is made from monocrystalline silicon cells. These types of cells are created by etching a single crystal from pure silicon, which results in very efficient solar panels. This type of panel costs a little more than polycrystalline but such an investment repays itself over time (cheap to run).
How much does a good solar system cost?
There are many ways to save money on a solar system for your rig. The first thing to do is figure out the best way to design your system and exactly what you want it to accomplish. The second step is finding out what all the stuff costs, you can check known brands such as Renogy solar panels and compare with other brands on Amazon.com, your prices may be different in your country. The price of solar panel installation on your RV can vary depending on what type of setup you have. Do I want a system that includes batteries? Will I use my rig for extended periods of time (meaning more electricity is needed) or just short stays at campgrounds?
There are many factors to consider when determining the costs involved with adding solar panels to your RV. Here are some examples of items that might be included in a typical solar system for an RV: Solar Panels – A good quality solar panel could cost around $150 each (the more expensive, the better).
Inverter – The inverter is another essential part of any type of off-grid power system. As you likely know, solar panels produce DC energy. The inverter takes this electricity and converts it into AC power (the type you use to run your appliances). You can buy a small inverter for around $300 but the more powerful models might cost between $1000-1500.
Amp Meter – There is no need to pay someone else excessive fees to install an amp meter on your solar panels. These devices are fairly simple and you can buy a relatively inexpensive one for around $100-150.
Batteries – If you choose to add batteries to your system, they typically cost between $200-$600 each (depending on how many you install). You can also purchase larger ones that cost around $1000 each.
Battery Charger – You will need to charge your batteries with a battery charger, this typically costs somewhere between $50 and $150 (it all depends on the size of your system).
Wiring – You will also need to purchase wiring for your system. Most systems use 12-gauge wire so you will need roughly around 25-50 feet for each panel (the cost depends on the wire’s length).
The total cost of a solar power system for your RV will vary depending on several factors. The size and configuration of your rig will be one major factor in determining prices, as larger RVs require more solar panels, wiring, etc. Another thing to consider is your geographical location and how much sunlight you expect to receive. Generally speaking, the amount of sunlight in locations such as Florida or California will be greater than other areas with less sunlight.
One final word of caution before you invest in a solar system for your rig: think long-term! A high-quality solar panel can last to about 25 years (expect to pay around $200 per panel). Although some batteries have a longer lifespan, the average life span is 7-10 years. So make sure you think about your plans for the future and don’t be in too much of a rush to get your system up and running. If you are careful with your budget and you plan things out well, it should be possible to install a solar power system for your RV on a budget.
In some places, you can buy used panels for less than new equipment and in other places, the price is virtually the same. You will almost always pay more if you purchase from an auto parts store or car dealer because of their markup on price.
If you are not real savvy with the installation, you may want to consider hiring someone. Many companies will come to your property and install solar panels for a price of about $200 each that includes wiring and equipment. Most professionals can get this done in a couple of days or even less if they have everything they need on hand. It is advisable to get a licensed solar panels installer to avoid the hassle of problems in the future.
How to Choose an RV Solar Panel Installation Company
There are a number of factors you might take into consideration when choosing one company over another. A few examples include how much they charge, what type of work they perform, and whether or not they have experience with your specific rig. You should also look for companies that offer warranties on the materials and services they provide. It is a good idea to ask for references from past customers as well.
When you choose to have solar panels installed, it is important that your company can do everything from design to construction and even maintenance work if necessary. To find an RV Solar Panel Installation Company near you, just enter your zip code in the search box on top of this site.
Before you enter your information, consider whether or not it is important that the company be close to where you live and if their experience with a particular type of rig will help them do the job right. You may even choose to pay extra for modifications such as installation on an A-frame or building a custom mounting system. Some companies have excellent deals for people who purchase their systems in bulk, so make sure you ask if they can do such things before hiring them.
Purchasing Solar Panels and Other Equipment
If you need to place an order for solar panels or other equipment, there are several websites that provide this service, such as Costco and Amazon.com. These companies have a wide selection of equipment and will usually ship it to you for free if you live in the same state as they do. If not, you may have to pay extra to get your panels delivered. Amazon.com is a great starting point to look for RV solar panels because you can find some of the best solar brands such as Renogy which are known to have great RV solar panels at affordable prices.
It is extremely important that you choose an experienced solar panel installation company before making any purchases. This way, you will know that your solar power system will be working as it should once it is set up. When you have a great experience with a company, feel free to tell your friends about them so they can get advice on what products to buy as well.
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