Riding around the country or camping out for several weeks during the summer can be an amazing, fulfilling way to spend time with your family and enjoy your summer vacation, but if you don’t have the right type of power setup in your RV, during those hotter days it can actually be pretty miserable. So, how can you ensure you have enough juice in your RV to power all of your appliances and your AC? Are you considering installing solar panels on your RV for a more energy efficient setup? Are you wondering how many solar panels do I need for my RV, and aren’t sure where to start?
Key Takeaway: The size of your solar panel system will heavily depend on your specific power needs, the type of panels you use, and how much surface space you have to work with. If you have a monocrystalline panel system, you won’t need to use as many panels as you would if you used a polycrystalline system because the polycrystalline panels aren’t nearly as powerful. Additionally, you’ll also need to factor in the wattage of the system in order to calculate how many panels you’ll need to use to power the electronics and appliances you’re bringing along on your trip.
Continue reading to learn how to calculate your solar power needs.
Solar Panel Systems
We’ll begin with how solar panels on an RV work, to give you a clear idea of what this type of setup entails.
Solar panel systems have become increasingly popular over the past few years. The right size system can save you a ton of cash whether you have them installed on the roof of your home or the roof of your RV.
Many people mistakenly believe that a solar panel RV system simply consists of a few solar panels, when in fact, the solar panels are just part of a larger system. Typically, solar panels are usually just one of several energy sources that you’ll find on the average RV. Aside from solar, most RV owners also use the best camp generator for backup power.
The solar panels charge batteries. These batteries are directly wired to the DC side of the vehicle’s electrical panel, supplying power to electronic devices directly. There is also an inverter located between the panel and the batteries. The inverter receives about twelve volts of electricity and transforms it into one hundred and twenty volts of electricity.
So, any major appliances, such as an air conditioner, are powered by both the batteries and the inverter.
If you don’t want to be stuck at a campground all day, then having a solar panel system that’s able to sufficiently keep your RV’s battery charged up is a must. If you decide to go with a solar panel system, you’ll first need to take note that a kit will be rated using watts of output.
You can easily determine a kit’s wattage rating simply by multiplying peak power voltage of the power using the peak power amperage. Knowing exactly how much power you’ll need will ensure you find the type of system that can provide the power you need when you’re off the grid or doing a little cross country traveling.
Unlike a camp generator, a solar panel system is considered more beneficial because they don’t come with a lot of moving parts and they’re completely silent. They also don’t require much maintenance.
Since you don’t have to purchase fuel to operate this type of system, they’re also more cost effective. Fortunately, you can easily size a solar panel kit in order to suit your travelling needs.
Why Size Matters
The size of your solar setup including the inverter and battery bank is what determines whether or not you’re able to run your AC or other large appliances regularly. In order to determine how many solar panels, you’ll need you must determine how many amps your appliances require during operation.
As an example, if you want to power an air conditioner that runs at one hundred and fifty amps when placed on the low setting, you’ll now have a number you can use to size your solar setup in order to accommodate your AC.
If you plan on using the AC for about four or five hours a day, this means the AC will draw over seven hundred AHs per day from the batteries. In order to replenish this power, the panels must generate at least one hundred and five amps for approximately seven or eight hours a day. But this is also assuming you’re in a sunny location that experiences full sun for at least seven hours daily. In order to power an AC at over thirteen thousand BTUs, you’ll need the minimum of fifteen hundred watts of solar power.
This type of wattage should be in addition to the power you need to run everything else in your RV.
Calculating Your Power Needs
There are several different ways you can go about calculating your power needs for your RV. The first way is to boondock without the use of a generator. Next, you’ll determine how long it will take to operate your rig using the battery only and no other source of energy, such as a generator. If it took a few days to drain the battery, then you should note that the battery provides about two hundred amp hours. Unfortunately, you’ll only be able to use about seventy-five percent of that energy.
Once you’re aware of the battery’s storage capacity, you’ll need to determine the number of solar panels needed to replace fifty amp hours, which is what is usually consumed on an average day of travel. If you use your RV mainly during the spring and summer months, then you’ll get approximately five peak sun hours a day, on average.
Most solar panels feature one hundred watts of power and are capable of producing about six amps for each peak sun hour. This equals thirty amp hours a day, meaning you would need two one hundred watt panels to fully recharge your RV.
If you have a rough idea of your power needs, you need to check a solar panel’s spec sheet and look for the watt rating, the peak power amps, and peak power volts.
Since your AC draws around one hundred and fifty amps, you’ll need one hundred and fifty AH extra capacity for every hour you plan to run your AC when it’s cloudy out or at night. As an example, most people often run their AC for a couple of hours after the sun sets in order to clear out heat. At that time, a battery bank should be at around four hundred AHs of capacity. This means you’d need to increase your battery bank capacity by three hundred AHs at a minimum, for the total of seven hundred AHs. This type of extra capacity will allow the bank to last when you use the AC when the sun isn’t out, and the panels are no longer producing power.
The size of the inverter generator needed is the last piece of the puzzle for this type of setup. The starting wattage of an RV AC is between twenty-eight hundred and three thousand. Since it’s never a good idea to max out a generator’s power, you’d need a model such as the Westinghouse iGen2200, which will provide more leeway in terms of power. The running wattage of an AC is significantly less than the starting wattage, so you could buy a soft starter in order to reduce the size of the generator needed to regularly operate the AC.
Click here to learn more about inverter generator options for your RV in our camp generator buyer’s guide.
Installing Solar Panels
Installing solar panels on your RV isn’t exactly the easiest job in the world, but it’s also not the most difficult, especially if you’re an avid DIYer. If you’d like to learn how to mount solar panels on RV roof, click here for more information in our step by step guide.
Is This Type of Setup Worth it?
So, is it worth it to you to invest in this type of large solar setup in order to enjoy powering larger appliances such as an AC? Is your RV big enough to accommodate a large battery bank and solar panel system? If you answered yes to both of these questions, click here to read out RV solar panels buyer’s guide where you’ll find a variety of setups to choose from.