How to Calculate Solar Panels Needed for Camping
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How to Calculate Solar Panels Needed for Camping

If you want to use an RV solar panel kit on your rig for your next trip, first, you must learn how to calculate solar panels needed for camping. This will tell you exactly what type of setup you need while ensuring you have more than enough juice for your trip. Obviously, a large set will provide more power in less time, but what type of setup do you need? Are you solely relying on solar power to meet your needs or do you plan on buying the best camp generator to charge your sensitive electronics and a few appliances?

How to calculate solar panels needed for camping will involve:

  • Compiling a list of all of the appliances and devices you will use on your camping trip
  • Writing down the power consumption for each device and appliance
  • Converting watts to amps
  • Determining the right size of solar panels based on your power needs
  • Choosing the right size battery

Calculating how much energy you’ll need based on the appliances you’re bringing on your trip and purchasing the right size of solar panels and a powerful battery will be the key to ensuring you’re not stuck in the backcountry without power. You’ll also have to take into account a solar panel kit’s amp hour rating and factor in how many hours a day you plan on charging the panels and have a plan in place in the event you run into bad weather.

Read on to learn how to determine the right size solar panel kit for your next trip and how an inverter generator can be the perfect addition to this energy efficient setup.

Putting Together Your Solar Panel Setup

In order to calculate the amount of energy you’ll use for any given period of time, you’ll need to multiply the power consumption of appliances. The power consumption for appliances is given in watts. Calculate this number by multiplying the power consumption by the hours of use.

If you can’t find the watt rating for any given appliance, you should be able to find the amps and the input volts.

In order to convert watts to amps, It’s important to know that the electric charge in amperage is equivalent to the energy in watts, divided by the voltage.

This will give you a good idea of how much power you and your family will use on a daily basis and the size of solar panels and the amp hour rating you need in a solar panel kit.

How Solar Panels are Used

Solar Panel Size

A solar panel isn’t used to charge an appliance or device directly. Instead, they’re used to charge a battery. While a solar panel isn’t able to produce enough power to run a device, it can build up a higher wattage through a battery. Batteries can also regulate the amount of power that goes into a device, and at a constant rate. When a solar panel charges a battery it usually produces a fluctuating level of power which can be harmful to certain types of devices such as smartphones and tablets.

Battery Power

A solar panel system’s battery is typically measured in amp hours. This needs to be converted to watt-hours via multiplying the amp-hours by the battery voltage. Amp hour ratings are clearly listed on deep cycle batteries. A battery that has approximately one hundred AHs is able to deliver five amps of power for a twenty hour period.

When you’re shopping for a battery, bring a list of the appliances and devices you’ll be powering and the amount of time they will run for. This will help you to find the perfect battery for your solar panel system, one that can supply enough juice on your camping trip.

Solar Panel Size

The power rating for a solar panel is displayed in watts. In order to determine how much energy it will be able to provide a battery, you must divide the watts by the voltage of the panel.

How many panels you need will depend on your specific power needs, your budget, and the size of the RV’s roof. Most experienced RV enthusiasts recommend at least two one hundred and twenty-volt panels.

Power Inverter

An inverter is what converts the power stored in the battery into the AC volts that will run your devices. There are actually a couple of different types of inverters to choose from: modified and pure sine wave.

The pure sine wave inverter provides clean power and can easily run sensitive appliances and devices safely, without any type of fluctuation in the power.

Modified sine wave inverters are not considered as clean as sine wave inverters, however, their technology has advanced over the years, making them a safe option to power larger appliances such as coffee makers, fridges, and electric stoves. These inverters should still not be used to power sensitive devices.

Other Solar Panel System Components

A solar panel with a wattage of thirty or higher will require a solar charge controller. This component is used to prevent the battery from overcharging. It also supplies the battery with the right amount of energy, significantly lengthening the battery’s lifespan. As you probably already know, batteries that are often overcharged need to be replaced frequently.

Camping Out

Camping Out with solar panels

If you’re planning a trip in the backcountry, for a week or more, then you need a solar panel system that can provide some serious power. In this case, you’ll need to consider how much power you’ll need daily, how much power your system must store, and take into account the number of people in your party. We recommend speaking with each person to determine the types of devices and appliances they’re bringing along, in order to take these additional power needs into consideration.

The bigger the solar panels in the system, the more sun can hit the surface and reach the battery. Another thing to consider is the fact that a solar panel will rarely run at one hundred percent efficiency. This means, even if you have a twelve-volt solar panel that’s designed to produce nine amps it may only produce seven amps, even in ideal conditions. If you’re camping out during the winter months and you’re dealing with a lot of overcast days, then you may only get as little as three amps. If you have several overcast days in a row, then you may never be able to fully charge the batteries.

Obviously, the bigger the solar panel set, the better. Most sets will come with one to four solar panels. You can also purchase additional panels to add to the set, as long as they’re compatible with your existing system and there’s enough space to install them.

Solar Charging Hours

When trying to determine the daily charging hours for each day of your trip, you’ll also need to take into consideration the possibility of overcast days. You should have a goal to allow the panels to charge for at least three hours a day. During the summer, you’ll find that the panels charge the battery faster, and more efficiently, while there is definitely a dip in power during the fall and winter months. Because the weather is never predictable, if you’re solely relying on your solar panel setup, even during the summer months, you will need to conserve energy in anticipation of a cloudy day. Fortunately, there are other ways to supplement power during your camping trip.

Inverter Generator and Solar Panel Setup

For many, when it comes to camping, the inverter generator is essential. These generators aren’t like the larger conventional generators you may be familiar with. Instead, these compact, light generators are quiet-running and highly portable. If you’re planning on camping off the grid, then not only do you need a solid solar panel system, one that can provide the type of power you need, but you also need one or two inverter generators. These generators will be the perfect addition to your power arsenal, and they can also provide you with some serious peace of mind, especially if you hit bad weather or an overcast day. Most models weigh in at around twenty to forty pounds and can power two to three small devices and one larger appliance. They also produce pure sine wave energy, which is why they’re often used to power sensitive electronics. We recommend the Wen PowerPro 56101 Inverter Generator, which is one of the smallest camping generators on the market. It’s available for a reasonable price, offers a decent runtime and fuel tank size, and offers reliable power when you need it the most.

Our Choice

Renogy KIT-RV200D Solar Panel kit

In terms of a solar panel set, we recommend the Renogy 200 Watts Monocrystalline Solar RV Off-Grid Kit. Renogy produces some of the best-selling RV solar panel kits on the market. These panels are very efficient, with systems that are easy to maintain and set up.

This system can produce up to one thousand watt-hours a day, depending on the weather. The panels are made out of top of the line encapsulation materials that are specifically designed to promote better than average cell performance. The frames of the solar panels are made out of lightweight corrosion-resistant aluminum.

If you need more power than what this starter kit can provide, you can opt for the Renogy 400 Watts 12 Volts Monocrystalline Solar RV Kit, which comes with four solar panels instead of two.

What We Love:

  • Made with corrosion-resistant aluminum frames
  • Comes with two monocrystalline panels
  • Provides up to one thousand watt-hours per charge
  • Easy assembly

What We Didn’t Love:

  • The monocrystalline solar panels must be kept clean in order to work efficiently
  • Watt hours depends on weather conditions

To learn more about this popular RV solar panel kit by Renogy, click the button below.

Related Questions

How Many Solar Panels Do I Need to Run A Fridge?

This can depend on the size of the fridge itself. Here, we’ll focus solely on RV solar panel kits. On average, a system that consists of two one hundred and twenty-volt panels should provide more than enough power to run a small RV fridge.

If you’d like to learn more about solar panel kits for your RV, click here to read our buyer’s guide.

Will RV Solar Panels Still Charge on Cloudy Days?

Yes, however, they will not be nearly as efficient as they are on sunny days, so you can expect a significant dip in power by more than seventy percent in some cases. Charging the panels for a longer period of time than usual, on cloudy days can help slightly, but they still won’t provide anywhere near the same amount of power that they can on sunny days.

A dip in power can also occur if you fail to keep the solar panels clean. Dirty solar panels can affect their ability to absorb sunlight.

Can I Buy RV Solar Panels Separately Or Do they Only Come in Sets?

If you think you need more power than what your current system can offer, then you can purchase single solar panels. Just make sure the panel is compatible with your existing solar panel system. We recommend sticking with the same brand as your other solar panels, just to be safe.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to calculate solar panels needed for camping will ensure you have more than enough power to charge and run important appliances and devices. After you’ve compiled a list of all of the electronic devices and appliances you’re bringing along on your trip and converted the amps to watts, you’ll know how much power you need out of your solar panel kit, daily. Of course, you will also have to factor in an overcast day or two, kit size, and the amp hour rating. But with this information, you should end up with the perfect setup for your camping adventure, and one that will provide all the power you need.

These setups are a popular alternative power source for families on a tight budget who cannot afford the higher ongoing costs that come with constantly running an inverter generator.

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How to Calculate Solar Panels Needed for Camping
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How to Calculate Solar Panels Needed for Camping
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Read on to learn how to determine the right size and amp hour rating for solar panels that can supply more than enough power for your next camping trip.
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