Table of Contents
This RV solar panel article walks you through the process of choosing the right solar solution to power your RV adventures!
Here are the topics we’ll be covering in this article:
- We’ll briefly discuss the benefits of using RV solar panels.
- Explain the different types of RV solar panels along with pros and cons
- Below you’ll also find 3 calculators to help you figure out the following:
1. Estimated Daily Watt-Hours Calculator
(To help you estimate the size of the solar panel system needed to power your RV’s electrical appliances and electronics)
2. Solar Panel Break Even Calculator
(shows you the number of months required to break-even on your investment)
3. Cost Per Watt Calculator
(cost per watt = total cost of the panel divided by its rated power output in watts)
The Benefits of Using RV Solar Panels
If you currently are solely relying on traditional sources of energy for your RV power needs then you are not taking advantage of all the benefits that you can enjoy by incorporating RV solar panels.
By using RV solar panels you can harness the sun’s power to reap the following benefits:
- clean, renewable, environmentally friendly
- travel off-grid
The reason why most people choose an RV in the first place is to put behind them the shackles of the brick-and-mortar and to enjoy the freedom of the open road.
Solar panels can elevate that feeling of freedom by enabling you to become more energy independent.
By harnessing the sun’s free power you can enjoy extended stays in remote locations while enjoying the modern conveniences of lights, refrigeration, and charging electronics.
Another advantage of using RV solar panels is that they are low maintenance compared to other energy sources.
Once installed properly by professionals or experienced DIY enthusiasts, these panels can last up to 25 years with minimal upkeep required.
Importance of Choosing the Right RV Solar Panels
When choosing your RV solar panels, it’s important to understand their different types and features to choose the right set up for your needs.
The 3 common types of solar panels used on homes and RVs as well are:
- Polycrystalline (also known as multicrystalline)
Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses to be taken into account. The main points to consider are:
- Durability over time
- Cost per wattage produced
Therefore make sure that you understand each type before making a purchase decision.
When selecting the type of solar panel, you first need to determine your wattage output needs that will be required from your RV solar panels.
Also keep in mind that the power output will vary from day to day depending on the amount of sunlight that your panels receive.
You’ll need to determine a good estimated energy requirement that is based on the power consumption of your RV appliances and your usage habits.
By choosing higher efficiency panels and ensuring that they’re installed correctly by professionals or experienced DIY enthusiasts, you can maximize energy production and get the most out of your investment in solar power.
Monocrystalline vs Polycrystalline vs Thin Film
Monocrystalline solar panels are made from a single crystal of silicon and are the most efficient type of solar panel.
They have a sleek black appearance and are often smaller in size than polycrystalline panels.
Monocrystalline panels work well in low light environments, making them a good choice for cloudy or overcast climates.
However, they can be more expensive than other types of panels.
- sleek black appearance
- often smaller in size
- works well in low light environments
- can be more expensive than other types of panels
Polycrystalline solar panels are made from multiple crystals of silicon and have a blue coloration. They tend to be less expensive than monocrystalline panels but are also less efficient.
Polycrystalline panels work best in direct sunlight and can experience decreased performance in low light conditions.
- tend to be less expensive than monocrystalline panels
- less efficient than Monocrystalline panels
- decreased performance in low light conditions
Thin film solar panels use layers of photovoltaic material applied to a flexible substrate such as plastic or metal.
They can be lightweight and flexible, making them ideal for curved surfaces or irregularly shaped RVs. However, they have lower efficiency rates compared to mono- or polycrystalline panels.
Thin Film Pros
- lightweight and flexible
Thin Film Cons
- lower efficiency rates compared to mono- or polycrystalline panels
- may degrade more quickly over time in comparison to other types
Pros and Cons Summary
Each type of panel has its own unique pros and cons. These should be weighed when deciding which solar panel type is best for you.
Monocrystalline panels offer high efficiency rates but can come with a higher price tag.
Polycrystalline panels offer affordability but lower efficiency rates.
Thin film solar is lightweight and flexible enough to conform to almost any surface, even curved ones; however, they tend to be less efficient and more prone to damage.
In addition, thin film solar panels may degrade more quickly over time in comparison to other types of panels.
Which Type is Best Suited for Your Specific Needs?
There is no single “best type” of RV solar panel. Ultimately, the best type of RV solar panel is the one that meets your specific needs and budget.
Monocrystalline solar panels are suited for those needing high efficiency rates, have ample space on their RV roof and have the budget to pay a higher price.
Polycrystalline solar panels provide a good balance between cost and efficiency, making them a great choice for many RV owners.
Thin film solar panels are an excellent choice if you have limited roof space or need a flexible solution but don’t require maximum energy production.
Be sure to research each type of panel further to determine which one works best for your individual needs before making a purchase.
Power Output and Efficiency
Understanding Wattage and Voltage Ratings
When it comes to choosing RV solar panels, it’s important to understand their wattage and voltage ratings.
In general, higher wattage ratings mean more power output. This of course translates into more energy for your appliances and devices.
A typical RV solar panel has a wattage rating of between 100 watts to 400 watts per panel.
The higher the wattage rating, the more efficient the panel is at converting sunlight into electricity.
The greater efficiency will be needed if the RV environment has less direct sun rays for a shorter period of time.
Typically voltage ratings run between 12 volts (DC) or 24 volts (DC), depending on your RV’s electrical system.
Solar Panel Estimator Calculator
The Solar Panel Estimator is a calculator that can be used to estimate the daily watt-hours for solar panels.
This calculator can be used to determine the size of the solar panel system needed to power an RV’s electrical appliances and electronics.
To use the calculator, simply enter the total wattage of the solar panel system and the number of hours of direct sunlight per day.
The calculator will then calculate the estimated daily watt-hours for the solar panel system.
This figure can then be used to determine the size of the solar panel system needed to power an RV’s electrical appliances and electronics
Calculating Power Needs Based on Appliances and Usage Habits
Here a are the steps to calculate your solar power needs:
Calculate your total daily energy usage in kilowatt-hours (kWh)
Start by making a list of all the electrical devices you plan to use in your RV.
Some of the most common electrical devices for RVs are:
- Air Conditioners
- Cellphone Chargers
- Computers and Laptops
- Electrical Heating
- Gaming Consoles
- Lighting Fixtures
- Security System
- Water Heater
Write down their respective power consumption levels in watts. You can usually find this information on the device’s label, in its manual or looking it up online.
Next, estimate how many hours per day you’ll be using each device and add up their total daily energy usage in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
This will give you an idea of how much energy you need to generate each day to meet your needs.
It’s important to note that some appliances may have higher peak power demands than others, which means they require more energy during start-up or operation than their constant running level.
Take this into account when calculating your overall energy needs.
Now that you know what your power needs are, use the calculator to find the estimated daily watt-hours needed to meet your expected demand.
Steps to use “Estimated Daily Watt-Hours” Calculator
Calculate the Average Number of Hours of Direct Sunlight Per Day
Use the weather channel to estimate the average number of direct sunlight hours that you will expect per day by looking up the sunrise and sunset times.
Do this for the months that you expect to use the RV and come up with a ballpark estimate.
Calculate the total wattage of the solar panel system
To get the “total wattage of the solar panel system” for this calculation, you need to add up the wattage of each individual solar panel in the system.
The wattage of each solar panel can be found on the product label or in the product documentation.
Once you have the wattage of each individual solar panel, you can add them up to get the total wattage of the solar panel system times 75% as a constant for losses.
Importance of Choosing High Efficiency Panels to Maximize Energy Production
Choosing high efficiency panels is crucial if you want to maximize your RV’s energy production from solar panels.
High efficiency panels can convert more sunlight into electricity compared with lower efficiency panels.
Monocrystalline panels tend to have the highest efficiency ratings, followed by polycrystalline and thin-film panels.
However, higher efficiency panels are usually more expensive.
Keep in mind that investing in higher efficiency solar panels can pay off in the long run by reducing your overall system size and cost, as well as increasing your energy production over time.
Size and Weight Considerations
Determining available roof space for installation
When purchasing RV solar panels, it is important to consider the available roof space on your RV.
The size of your RV’s roof will determine how many solar panels you can install, as well as how much power you can generate.
Before choosing the panels that will fit your RV, measure the length and width of your rooftop.
This will give you an idea of how much space you have to work with.
Keep in mind that some areas may be obstructed by antennas or air conditioners.
Once you have a clear understanding of the available rooftop space, you can begin to explore different panel sizes and configurations.
Larger panels will produce more power but may not fit on smaller roofs.
Smaller panels may be better suited for compact rooftops but may not provide enough power for larger RVs.
What if you don‘t have enough space for a solar panel system?
Then you may need to opt for a portable or foldable solar panel system.
These are small and lightweight and can be easily transported and set up.
Weight limitations for RVs
Another important factor to consider when choosing solar panels for your RV is weight restrictions.
Solar panels vary in weight depending on their size and material construction.
Most manufacturers provide specifications on the weight of their products.
It is crucial to ensure that the total weight of your solar panel system does not exceed the maximum carrying capacity of your vehicle’s roof or chassis.
Exceeding these weight restrictions can cause damage to both your vehicle and solar panel system, potentially putting yourself and others in danger when navigating the roadways.
Choosing panels that fit within these constraints
Choosing a set of solar panels that fits within both size and weight constraints can be challenging but it’s important to get it right.
When shopping for solar panels consider modular systems where flexibility exists instead of one large heavy panel.
It’s also essential to choose high-efficiency models since they’ll produce more energy than lower efficiency options with fewer cells so fewer installations are required which saves space and reduce weight.
You can choose to mount the solar panels flat on your roof or tilt them towards the sun for maximum exposure.
Tilted panels will take up more vertical space but will produce more power than those installed flat.
When choosing solar panels that fit within these constraints, it is crucial to do your research and compare different brands and models.
Durability and Material Quality
When choosing RV solar panels, it’s important to consider both durability and warranty of the product.
You want to make sure that the panels you choose will last for years without failing or breaking down due to the elements.
High-quality solar panels are made from materials that can withstand extreme weather conditions, including rain, snow, hail, and high winds.
Additionally, they should be resistant to impact damage from falling branches or other objects that might strike them.
The construction of your solar panels is also an important consideration.
Look for manufacturers who use premium materials in their production process.
For example, some companies use tempered glass on their panels which is stronger than regular glass and resists scratching and scuffing better which can extend the longevity of the panel.
Some companies also include a durable aluminum frame around the panel which increases its rigidity and helps protect against impacts.
Solar panels are exposed to harsh outdoor elements such as extreme heat in summer months or freezing temperatures in winter months which can cause problems over time if not built with proper weather resistance measures and materials.
A durable frame design that resists rusting is necessary for long-term protection of your investment while exposed to the outdoors.
In addition to rust resistance measures within the metal parts of your solar panel installation kit, it’s important that insulation protection is provided against moisture buildup that could otherwise hinder reliability and performance over time.
Your Solar Panels should be able to withstand impacts like hailstones or bird droppings without cracking or losing significant efficiency.
The best way to reduce potential damage from falling debris hitting your solar panel system is by installing them securely on sturdy mounts with appropriate anchoring methods.
High quality tempered glass reduces risk associated with impact damage while at same time providing protection against UV radiation and scratches.
In addition, reinforced supports such as aluminum or steel frames are designed to withstand high winds typical of RV travel and can help protect your solar panels in conditions like heavy storms or hurricanes.
Length and Coverage of Manufacturer Warranty
It’s important to choose a manufacturer that offers a warranty on their panels.
A good warranty can give you peace of mind knowing that if something goes wrong, you have recourse for repair or replacement without additional expense.
The length and coverage of the manufacturer’s warranty should also be considered when making your decision.
While most manufacturers will offer warranties for a specific number of years, it’s important to read the fine print to understand what is covered under the warranty.
Top-tier solar panel manufacturers will typically offer warranties ranging from 20-25 years on their products.
These warranties cover any defects in materials or workmanship that arise during normal use.
The best warranties provide comprehensive coverage, including repair and replacement costs as well as labor expenses incurred during repairs.
Solar Panel Break Even Calculator
It’s a great feeling to do something good for the environment. But when you invest in RV solar panels it’s nice to know that you will eventually enjoy some financial rewards as well.
So how do you figure out when your hard earned money and investment will break-even?
We developed this solar panel break even calculator to help you find that out.
This tool calculates how many months it will take for your RV solar panels to pay for itself with your electrical savings
Cost per Watt Comparison Between Different Brands/Models
One of the primary factors in choosing the right RV solar panel is the cost per watt.
The cost per watt is simply the total cost of the panel divided by its rated power output in watts.
Comparing this metric across different brands and models can help you determine which panels offer the best value for your budget.
Cost Per Watt Calculator
It’s important to note that while cheaper panels may save you money upfront, they may not be as efficient as more expensive options.
This means that you could end up spending more money in the long run to produce the same amount of energy, making it worthwhile to invest in higher quality, more efficient panels.
Additionally, investing in high-quality solar panels can increase the resale value of your RV if you decide to sell it later on.
Buyers are often willing to pay a premium for RVs with high-quality solar setups that provide reliable off-grid power.
After choosing the right solar panels for your RV, the next step is to decide on installation options.
You may choose to install the panels yourself or hire a professional installation service.
Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and it’s important to consider them carefully before making a decision.
For those who enjoy DIY projects, installing RV solar panels can be a fun and rewarding experience.
It also allows you to save money on installation costs.
However, before embarking on this option, it’s important to consider your level of expertise.
Solar panel installation requires some electrical knowledge,
and if you don’t possess this skill set,
it may be best to hire a professional.
If you do choose the DIY route, there are many resources available online that provide step-by-step instructions and videos for installing solar panels on an RV.
Additionally, purchasing a kit that includes all necessary components can make the process easier.
Professional Installation Services
Hiring a professional installation service can provide peace of mind knowing that the job will be done correctly and safely.
Professional installers have experience working with different types of RVs and solar panel systems.
The downside of hiring professionals is the cost involved.
Depending on where you live and the size of your system, professional installation services can range from $500-$3000 or more.
Factors to Consider When Deciding Which Option to Choose
When deciding between DIY installation vs professional installation services for your RV solar system, it’s important to consider several factors:
- Budget: if budget is a concern, then DIY may be the better option as it saves money on labor costs.
- Skill Level: consider your level of expertise in electrical work and whether you feel comfortable tackling the installation yourself.
- Timeframe: if you need the solar panels installed quickly, then hiring professionals may be the better choice as they have the experience and tools to get the job done faster.
- Risk Tolerance: Installing solar panels on an RV involves some risk. If you’re not willing to take that risk, it’s best to hire professionals who are insured and have experience doing this type of work.
No matter which option you choose, it’s important to ensure that the installation is done correctly for optimal performance and safety.
Taking time to research your options and make an informed decision can save you money, time, and stress in the long run.
Regular Cleaning Schedule
Solar panel conversion efficiency, typically in the 20% range, is reduced by the accumulation of dust, grime, pollen, and other particulates on the solar panels, collectively referred to as soiling.
Proper maintenance is essential to ensure optimal performance of your RV solar panels.
Regular cleaning of the panels is necessary to remove dirt, dust, and debris that can obstruct the sunlight from reaching the panels.
You should clean your solar panels at least once every three months, or more frequently if you live in an area with a lot of dust or pollution.
Use a soft cloth or sponge and mild detergent to clean the surface of the panel.
Do not use abrasive cleaners or hard-bristled brushes as they can scratch or damage the panel.
Monitoring System Performance
To ensure that your RV solar panels are working efficiently, you should regularly monitor their performance.
Check this information regularly to ensure that everything is functioning properly.
If you notice any unusual changes in performance such as reduced power output or the battery charge level dropping faster than usual, it may indicate a problem with the system.
Choosing the right RV solar panels is a crucial step towards achieving energy independence while traveling on roads less traveled.
Consider all factors outlined in this guide including type of panel, size and weight considerations, power output and efficiency rating, durability and warranty period among others when making your selection.
With proper maintenance practices such as regular cleaning of your panels and monitoring system performance; you will be able to get optimal energy production for years without feeling weighed down by high fuel costs.
Yes, there are other alternative sources of power for an RV, such as wind turbines, generators, and fuel cells.
The amount of space solar panels take up on an RV will depend on the size and number of panels you install. Generally, a larger system will take up more space.
Solar panels typically last between 20–25 years.
Solar panels require very little maintenance. They should be inspected regularly for dirt or debris and cleaned for peak performance. When dirty, use only a soft cloth or soft brush with plain water. If stubborn stains persist, use a little isopropyl alcohol, window cleaner or mild dish soap. The wiring also should also be checked for any signs of damage. Always follow the manufacture’s guidelines.
The amount of power you can expect from a solar panel system will depend on a few different factors.
Some of those factors are:
- the size of the system
- the amount of sunlight available
- the efficiency of the solar cells
Generally, a larger system will produce more power.
There are several benefits you can enjoy when you install solar panels on an RV:
- reducing your reliance on generator power
- reducing energy costs
- increasing battery life
- reducing your carbon footprint
Calculating your solar panel payback period is easy!
Here is the simple formula:
((product cost + installation cost) – (tax rebates + financial incentives) ) / (monthly utility bill savings) = # months to “break-even”
Go green with solar power today!