You may already know that solar energy is a clean form of power that’s renewable, free, and natural. Learning how to set up solar panels for camping when you’re on your next annual camping trip can provide a more cost-effective source of energy that allows you to power important devices. With the best RV solar panels, you can travel to far out, remote locations and all without having to sacrifice camp lights, your smartphones, laptops, or fridge. Additionally, camping out in the backcountry also means you won’t have to pay steep campground fees which can be costly during the summer. You can also supplement power with an inverter generator, in addition to your solar panel setup, for endless power that’s better for the environment, and won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
How to set up solar panels for RV camping depends on the time of year you’re camping. Obviously, it’s important to park your rig in an unshaded area. But the biggest factor here will be how the panels are tilted and how you park your rig. The panels must be angled correctly to capture the most sunlight. Most pros recommend placing the panels perpendicular to the sun, year-round for the best sunlight absorption. However, you may want to increase or decrease the angle based on the season. Adjusting the tilt correctly based on sunlight exposure will allow you to receive up to forty percent more energy in the summer and ten percent more in the winter.
In order to get the most out of your RV solar panel system, you need to experiment with the tilt of the panels and point them in the direction that best captures the sun. However, there are some variables in terms of figuring out the best direction.
Read on to learn how to properly set up your solar panels for your next camping trip.
Camping with Solar Power
RV solar panel kits are designed for permanent installation on the top of your rig. These panels can produce an impressive amount of energy, so you won’t have to rely on campsites and rest stops to power up your RV’s battery and charge your electronics. This type of self-sufficient setup will not only require the panels themselves but an inverter and a deep-cycle battery, especially if you’re planning on charging two hundred and forty-volt appliances such as a TV. This type of setup fits together simply. The solar panels are mounted correctly on the roof of the RV, in order to gather sunlight, which will travel to a solar regulator and to the battery. The solar regulator is important because it’s what prevents damage to the battery which can be caused by overcharging or a fluctuating charge.
Solar panels for RV use are available in a couple of different forms: polycrystalline or monocrystalline. The more efficient of the two is the monocrystalline panels, which also come with a steep price tag, compared to polycrystalline panels.
RV Solar Panel Design
Setting up your RV solar panels for camping is easy. The on-grid design allows you to simply place solar panels on the roof of the RV, using the included hardware. You may need to adjust the position of the panels from time to time, depending on the weather and where you’re parked. If you’re on a tight budget, you can purchase a starter set like the Go Power! Weekender SW Complete Solar and Inverter System, which consists of one large panel. Most starter kits are expandable, which means you can purchase additional panels later down the line if you want to increase the amount of energy the solar panel system produces.
Positioning Solar Panels
Most RV solar panels are adjustable, allowing you to correctly angle the panels for improved sunlight absorption. Solar panels typically work the most efficiently when positioned at a thirty-degree angle. If you’re camping out in the backcountry, try to avoid parking under a shaded area, which will significantly hinder the panel’s ability to absorb sunlight.
Adjustable panels are able to track the movement of the sun during the day, which is what allows them to receive forty percent more energy in the summer and ten percent more power in the winter, compared to fixed solar panels. You should always park so that the solar panels are facing true south if you’re in the northern hemisphere. If you’re in the southern hemisphere, the panels should face true north. Keep in mind, true north isn’t the same as magnetic north.
Most pros recommend mounting your solar panels at a fixed tilt and leaving them there. However, because the sun is lower in the winter and higher in the summer, you’ll be able to capture more sunlight during the year by adjusting the position of the panels based on the season.
The Correct Angle
Basically, if you’re setting up the solar panels for camping, adjusting the panel’s tilt based on the time of year can give the panels a major energy boost.
Remember, correctly setting up and aligning your solar panels is key in order to optimize their performance. Solar panels that are positioned perpendicular to the sun will be able to capture the max amount of energy. Even a small angle of ten to twenty degrees off perpendicular can allow the sun to reflect off of glass, thus reducing the amount of power the panels can create. When possible, the panels should be repositioned based on the sun’s position in the sky, although this isn’t always possible with RV roof-mounted solar panels.
Is Installation Difficult?
If you’re not sure which RV solar panel kit will work for your rig, make sure you measure the roof of your rig and pay attention to a system’s space requirements. Larger solar panel kits with come with three or four solar panels and two to four deep cycle batteries, which should be more than enough power to meet your needs on the road. A two thousand watt inverter will be tough enough to run a demanding appliance, such as a microwave.
The installation process itself is easily a two-man job. You’ll need to install the panels securely, considering you’re going to take your rig on the freeway and travel for several hours at a time. Solar panels are designed to withstand high winds, hail, snow, and more, but they can’t hold up to flying debris, which will be your main concern on the freeway, or when you’re driving around in general.
Make sure you only use the included hardware that comes with the kit. Otherwise, you may end up voiding the warranty.
You may be excited to get to your destination, fire up the electric stove in your rig, or make that hot cup of coffee, but if you’ve just recently installed your solar panels, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Your solar panels won’t produce energy right away. Once you’ve reached your campsite, park in a sunny spot, free from brush and trees, which can block the sun at certain times of the day. Don’t expect to use the solar energy until the following day. Ideally, you should leave your panels properly adjusted and ready for the sun for a period of eight hours or more. Remember, positioning the panels perpendicular to the sun can ensure optimal sunlight absorption. How much the panels gather will depend on the hours of sunlight they get a day, as well as their size.
Supplement Your Power the Smart Way
Why use a generator for camping? If you need an additional power source for times like these, especially when your system is brand new, then bring along an inverter generator. These compact, lightweight generators are nothing like conventional generators, so you won’t have to worry about hauling a heavy generator or dealing with a lot of loud noise.
We recommend the Generac 7117 GP2200i Portable Inverter Generator. This compact little model is impressively powerful and can run for a period of seven hours when it’s at a fifty percent load. This is actually very impressive. Not only is it powerful and easy to haul it also comes with a lower than average noise rating, which is always a plus when you’re camping out.
The compact design makes these generators easier to haul and transport. Basically, they can provide all the power you need and can be a great solution for when your solar panel system isn’t performing the way it should.
If you’d like to learn more about inverter generators, click here to read our buyer’s guide.
Maintaining Your Solar Panel System for Optimal Performance
If you’re camping in the backcountry, then you may have your hands full when it comes to keeping your solar panels nice and clean, free from twigs, leaves, sticks, and dirt. Often, on high wind days, you’ll find that you need to wipe down each of the panels, otherwise, the system won’t provide as much power as it normally does. This can actually pose a huge problem in certain windy conditions. Normally, if the panels were coated in dust, you could easily hose them down and wipe them off, but if you’re not close to a water source, then you may struggle to keep the solar panels spotless. If you’re dealing with high winds and dirty panels, the best thing you can do at this point is to use a microfiber cloth and wipe the panels down as best as you can. Always park as far away from trees and brush as possible. Although, this will be difficult if you’re camping off the grid. If dirty panels is a real concern and high wind conditions are in the forecast, bring along extra towels and large jugs of water. This will help to cut down on the majority of the dirt and grime and can work to keep your system working efficiently.
Can Solar Power Run a Fridge?
Yes. In order to keep your food consistently cool and safe, a fridge must have a constant supply of power. Which is why solar power may not seem like a good option. However, with the right setup and power configuration, you should be able to run a small fridge with your solar panel system. If you need to power a regular size fridge with solar power, make sure the fridge is Energy Star rated. This means that the appliance is considered energy efficient. An RV solar panel system will work to power up a small twelve-volt fridge, but for a full sized fridge, you definitely need a bigger setup.
What Should I Avoid Powering with Solar?
With a rig setup, the most commonly powered appliance is a small, twelve-volt fridge, which can end up consuming around sixty percent of the system’s total draw. Additionally, camp lights, coffee makers, and other small appliances are also commonly powered by an RV solar panel system. You should avoid powering major heating appliances like a hair dryer because these types of devices are considered very energy intensive and will only end up wasting that hard-earned solar energy.
Will Dust Effect Solar Panel Efficiency?
Yes! The dust and dirt that can gather on solar panels will obstruct sunlight and can detract from the panel’s performance in a major way. This is usually a huge problem for mounted panels since they’re always exposed and have to deal with dust and dirt brought in by the wind. In order to avoid this issue, make sure you wipe down the panels regularly using a lint-free cloth. Never use a more abrasive type of material because it can scratch the surface of the panel.
How to set up solar panels for camping is simple. It’s all about where you park your rig and how you position the solar panels. Ideally, you will park in a bright area, one that’s free from trees. The panels should be placed perpendicular to the sun for the best sunlight absorption. You may also need to adjust the tilt of the panels based on the season in order to get the most out of your solar energy setup. Often, eyeballing the angle of the panels and making a slight adjustment to improve sunlight absorption in the summer or winter months is a cinch.